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Oh Brother by John Niven

Another non fiction book about death, but wait. It is also about so much more than that. It is about love and brothers and friendship and responsibilities and growing up and out of yourself. About music and drugs and perfect moments. It is funny and it's raw and honest and brutal and I loved it. I just loved it. Gary and Mungo are engraved on my heart.

‘What the hell goes on in your bloody heid, Gary?’

I remember Dad asking this more than once, after whatever fresh outrage had been committed. Here it is, Dad. All laid out like a split cauliflower. We’re in a small cubicle off the ICU. Up on the light box on the wall are the scans of Gary’s brain, bone white standing out against smoked grey. The consultant’s silver pen glides across the scans as he explains the clinical picture. Gary has effectively caused a monumental stroke. All the upper brain functions – memory, perception, motor skills, cognition – have been wiped out. Logic and reason are gone. (Again, and God help me, but how would we tell the difference?) So, there’s no other way to ask it. ‘Why are we keeping him alive?’

From the back

John Niven's little brother Gary was fearless, popular, stubborn, handsome, hilarious and sometimes terrifying. In 2010, after years of chaotic struggle against the world, he took his own life at the age of 42.

Hoping for the best while often witnessing the worst, John, his younger sister Linda and their mother, Jeanette, saw the darkest fears they had for Gary played out in drug deals, prison and bankruptcy. While his life spiralled downward and the love the Nivens' shared was tested to its limit, John drifted into his own trouble in the music industry, a world where excess was often a marker of success.

Tracking the lives of two brothers in changing times - from illicit cans of lager in 70s sitting rooms to ecstasy in 90s raves - O Brother is a tender, affecting and often uproariously funny story. It is about the bonds of family and how we try to keep the finest of those we lose alive. It is about black sheep and what it takes to break the ties that bind. Fundamentally it is about how families survive suicide, 'that last cry, from the saddest outpost.'


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