Cathy Rentzenbrink’s first book The Last Act of Love was a heartbreaking story of how her family came to terms with the tragic events that left, her brother Matty in a coma. After eight years, the family arrive at the unimaginably hard decision to let him go. Told with compassion and honesty, it is an unflinching look at grief, loss and strength.
A Manual for Heartache is not quite a follow-up as it not only looks at the loss of her brother, but it is no less intimate as Rentzenbrink shares her experience of living with her grief and finding hope in the darkness. Just as in The Last Act of Love, her unguarded openness is at the core of A Manual for Heartache, and is what makes it such an uplifting and warm read. In being so open and sharing moments from her own life, she is also showing us that we all have our own tragedies, sorrows and regrets and that no one of these is less painful than another. We are all struggling and in this struggle we can find ways of understanding one another. Of course, there is advice, but this is not a book full of do-this-and-you-will-be-fixed guidelines, instead opting to offer advice through sharing examples of how she found joy that may also work for you. She is especially good at writing about finding solace in literature, as well as in finding meaning in small acts of kindness.
The only misstep occurs when Rentzenbrink strays into the middle class guilt complex side of things. For example, at one point she advises that donating to a food bank or another charitable act could help with feelings of powerlessness, but neglects to consider offering advice to those who may need to rely on that food bank. Nonetheless, there are many other insights which make this a go-to book for anyone struggling with grief and loss, or simply finding the world all too much.
A Manual for Heartache will be published by Picador on 29th June 2017