The End of All Our Exploring: A love letter

The end of all our exploring book review

What is this about: This is a memoir, or rather a love letter from Catherine Anderson about Angus McDonald. It’s about finding each other, and loving each other and losing him.

What else is this about?: It doesn’t need to be about anything else in all honesty.

Blurb: Catherine Anderson and Angus McDonald are both restless souls – inveterate travellers, at home everywhere and nowhere. When they first meet, in a small hill town in the Himalayas, she thinks he is rude, mistaking his shyness for arrogance. He thinks she is idealistic and naive, and unlikely to remain past the next monsoon.

After years without contact, Catherine dreams of Angus, and within a few days receives a message from him. Though he is in Melbourne and she in London, Catherine feels a profound certainty that their lives are about to converge.

The End of All Our Exploring is an unconventional love story, set against a backdrop of some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery, but it is also a young woman’s lament for all she has lost, a meditation on grief – and a courageous attempt at acceptance and understanding.

Stars: 3.5

This is Catherine’s story, her love letter as I’ve said about Angus McDonald. I met Catherine at  the launch of this book recently, and found myself meeting a small woman who flitted from one of her guests to the next at the launch, beaming at the crowd and enjoying the moment. Angus was an accomplished photojournalist and author, and a selection of his striking pictures adorned the walls of the house where the launch was held. Later, I listened to Catherine read an excerpt about grief and promptly  found myself getting emotional. It was my father’s birthday, and while some years are okay, other years when I attend a launch and hear an excerpt about grief, so I promptly feel his loss all over again.

Grief

Is it always there? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can entirely articulate exactly what Catherine feels even after reading the book. Some of us shy away from it, from feeling the loss and the pain of it, but I think Catherine is the opposite. This book is her embracing it in all its agony.

She tells the story of how she came to meet Angus, and that her love of India is what kind of made that happen. To learn why she loved him, I think you have to understand who she is – why she married someone else after she first met him, and how different they were in the beginning. It’s later that their love blooms – over the internet as it turns out. The distance in years and locations afforded them an intimacy that led them to meeting in Thailand and falling in love.

Love and reality

There’s something fragile about this part of the book, like they’re in their own world before the reality of his illness intrudes and takes them to his home in Sydney. There, while I still feel Catherine’s writing is a delicate thing, tender when she writes about him, there’s so much underneath – anger and grief more than anything. It’s a potent mix, infusing her words with emotion that pretty much left me blubbering on the train as I finished the book.

Cancer is a devastating disease and she doesn’t hold back from it – from the fights between them, the coldness of some doctors and the empathy and support of others. She details the mundane, of cataloguing his eating habits and weight gain, of the elements of his cancer that you would mercifully never hear about unless you read this book (or went through it), but it’s all there. But, what she also shares is Angus: his sense of humour, his strength and the man she fell in love with and how he wanted to be strong for her.

Travels

Another aspect of this book is the detail and love Catherine puts into her descriptions of where she travels from Nepal to Syndey to Tibet and Thailand. These places are described in evocative writing – the writing of someone who has been there and done that and loved every minute.

This is a love letter about Angus McDonald – a glorious, tender description of the man that she loved. It’s everything you’d hope someone would write about you one day.

Catherine started a trust in his honour: The Angus McDonald Trust, which specialises in finding community-based solutions to  poverty in Myanmar… and honestly, you need to see the charity’s site here.

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