” For us, it was never about death. It was about life. Knowing that there was a was a way out, and that his suffering was not going to become unendurable, was the one thing that allowed Mr Peterson to go on living, much longer than he would have otherwise wanted. It was the weeks leading up to our pact that was shrouded in darkness and despair; after its inception, life became a more meaningful prospect once more.”
From The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
When I started to read The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, I was not sure I was going to enjoy it. The right to die is a difficult and controversial subject that tends to polorize opinion, leading to highly emotional debates. I happened at the same time to be reading A Slip Of the Keyboard – Terry Pratchett In His Own Words and the two books got me thinking about my own feelings on this subject, as well as my thoughts on the qualities of the books themselves.
I should say here, that I suffer from a painful and debilitating condition and therefore its a subject that is personal and important to me. I agree with a persons right to die when and how they choose, as long as it is their choice.
Prachett died from a very rare form of Alzimers and spoke often and with some passion on the subject of what he felt was his right to die at a moment of his choice, before the condition that eventually claimed his life, left him unable to live a life worth living. It’s a subject he writes about in the collection of his thoughts, A Slip Of The Keyboard amongst other things and its hard to ignore his argugment, that its not death we should be scared of, its how we die. Death is a reality that we all have an undestandle fear of, but is death what we are actually scared of, or the nature of our deaths. It’s a collection of newpaper articles etc from a man whose remarkable mind, created such clever books as the Discworld series and worth a read even if your not a fan, but want to learn more about why some people would choose to die at a time of their own choosing. Its written with his trademark wit and intellgience and some might say a certain rightess anger, at other peoples refusal to accept the individuals right to decide when thier life is no longer bearable. He does discuss other subjects close to his heart, book signing tours and conventions, but it was his arguments over the subject of the right to die, that really affected me, probably because I was reading Extence’s book at the same time.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods was a book that had been sat on my kindle for quite some time, waiting for it’s moment to be read. I tweeted at about 78 pages in that I wasn’t sure it was for me and @Lovereadinguk reminded me that sometimes its the books that don’t intially grab us, which come to mean the most and that has been proven right. It deals with the subject in a sensitive and intelligent manner and the emotional kick at the end of the story gives the novel its strength, because Extence doesn’t over load the reader with cheap emotion, its all rooted in a well crafted and gently told tale of making the best of the life your given. The writer takes the subject of the right to die and weaves it into a uplifting tale of an unexpected friendship, a journey that takes Alex Wood and Mr Peterson from loneiness and isolation to friendship, loss and ultimatley new beginings. It will make you think, laugh, cry and ponder the nature of how friendship takes courage. Of how when we are are our most vunerable, is when we really need those that care about us to be at our side. Some might find the adolencent Alex and the grumpy pot smoking Mr Peterson an unlikely pairing. It works though! Alex is able to come to accept Mr Peterson’s need to decide how he lives, while being a self aware enough to know their actions will have wider reperucussions for family and friends.
I can confidently say that The Universe Versus Alex Woods will be among my favourite books this year. It deals with an important subject with a sensitivity that that never seeks to leave the reader emotionally drained, because it weaves in an element of positivity that lifts it from the dangerous territory of melodrama. Its beautifully written and deeply moving.
Whatever our feelings about the right to die are, this book will engage you and make you laugh, cry and importantly think. It most certainly made me do all three.