2018 Classics Challenge# 2-A 20th century classic
A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis
After reading The Problem of Pain, I said I’d followed it up by A Grief Observed. So that is what I did for the 2018 Classics Challenge. Between the two books, I think I would have to say I appreciated A Grief Observed more. This book carries a lot of power for its size- only four chapters.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
It doesn’t feel right to say I enjoyed this book. It’s not an enjoyable topic- it’s written with real grief over a real death, and yet that is what gives A Grief Observed its quality. These are Lewis’s own thoughts and feelings recorded here. He isn’t writing what he supposes; he is writing what he knows. The words and emotions are authentic, human, and therefore messy.
“I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought. Let me try it over again.”
But even with the rawness of mortal emotion, Lewis remains Lewis. Despite the personal pain of the grief, he picks it apart to find the underlying meaning of it all. A Grief Observed covers all areas: the pain of memory, the fear of forgetting; numbness, anger, confusion; and through it all he asks ‘what happened, and why’. The death shatters not only his old life but his old ideas, and he finds himself with much to consider. By the end of the book, Lewis may not have received the answer he wanted, but even so the book ends with peace.
“And more than once, that impression which I can’t describe except by saying that it’s like the sound of a chuckle in the darkness. The sense that some shattering and disarming simplicity is the real answer.”
There is one more thing, though. At one point Lewis makes a very brief reference to Purgatory. This sparked my curiosity. Rumour has it that he explains his stance in his book Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer. It looks as if I will have to read that one next.