Title: Goodbye, Vitamin
Writer: Rachel Khong
Publishing House: Scribner UK
Date of Publication: June 1st 2017
Rating: 5 stars
“It doesn’t matter who remembers what, I guess, so long as somebody remembers something.”
“Goodbye, Vitamin” came highly recommended by many people whose opinion I trust and I had high hopes. I expected to enjoy it- if such a verb can be used in this context – but I didn’t expect to love it so much. It was a novel that moved me deeply and made me lose my stop in the Tube on my way back from work. And this happens extremely rarely, so you understand how much it influenced me.
Ruth returns home to help her mother as her has been diagnosed with Alzheimer. He used to be an esteemed and beloved professor, but now? He’s not even allowed to set foot in the campus, a rule imposed by a vindictive former colleague. So, the situation at home is very demanding. In addition, Ruth’s private life has its own difficulties. Her career has stalled and her relationship has fallen apart as a result of her fiancé’s infidelity.
Ruth has an awful load on her shoulders and her minor and major daily trials are described in a contemporary, humorous language that is balanced and immediate, managing to communicate so many things almost without saying anything. Khong uses the diary technique to have Ruth narrate her story. At the same time, we are shown Howard’s “letters” to his young daughter that are touching, sweet and a beautiful mirror to the wonderful interactions between a parent and a child. There is little dialogue and many poetic, almost dreamy, passages about Ruth’s life before and after this eventful year. Her thoughts and confessions, her effort to reminisce about the past in order to understand the present is our vehicle to the story, but I didn’t find this alienating. On the contrary, entering her mind made me understand and appreciate Ruth and her surroundings even better.
This girl is a delightful character. I loved her and connected with her from the start. She is a tricky one, though. She is brave and resourceful and refuses to give up, but she has many moments of weakness and sometimes, she is too severe with herself. At the hands of a less capable writer, Ruth would have become unlikable, drowned in puddles of melodramatic self -pity. However, Khong knows her Art and, in my opinion, she succeeded in creating a highly memorable heroine that is real, approachable and very interesting. Khong manages to compose fully-developed characters within a limited number of pages. I felt that there was an aura of mystery surrounding Howard, as a father and a husband, as a professor. Linus and Theo were very sympathetic, as well. I can’t say the same for Ruth’s mother, but she had her reasons.
This book is like a beautiful breeze. Khong chose to deal with a very difficult subject as Alzheimer is one of the central issues that are addressed in our society. Judging from myself and from discussions with young and elderly people, this disease constitutes one of our major fears. How would it feel if our parents weren’t able to recognize us? How would it be if we were unable to recognize our children? It is too frightening….Books such as this one provide a more optimistic perspective and Khong uses humour mixed with sadness to create a bittersweet novel that never becomes disrespectful or light. It’s the kind of book that should be read in order to be felt and one more bright example to the endless list of Contemporary Fiction diamonds.