Bedtime Story

Chloe Hooper

Bedtime Story
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Bedtime Story

Chloe Hooper

Let me tell you a story…

When Chloe Hooper’s partner is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive illness, she has to find a way to tell their two young sons.

By instinct, she turns to the bookshelf. Can the news be broken as a bedtime tale? Is there a perfect book to prepare children for loss? Hooper embarks on a quest to find what practical lessons children’s literature - with its innocent orphans and evil adults, magic, monsters and anthropomorphic animals - can teach about grief and resilience in real life.

As she discovers, ‘the right words are an incantation, a spell of hope for the future.‘ From the Brothers Grimm to Frances Hodgson Burnett and Tolkien and Dahl-all of whom suffered childhood bereavements-she follows the breadcrumbs of the world’s favourite authors, searching for the deep wisdom in their books and lives.

Both memoir and manual, Bedtime Story is stunningly illustrated by the New York Times award-winning Anna Walker. In an age of worldwide uncertainty, here is a profound and moving exploration of the dark and light of storytelling.

‘This book is a miracle of light and meaning-making from one of our finest writers. Venturing inward with extraordinary grace, Hooper explores - and extends - the long literary line surging with our deepest inherited wisdom about how to embrace our finite lives. The result is nothing less than the hero’s journey we have been collectively starving for. Telling you this is like trying to describe the sun; it is a book so powerful and beautiful - so utterly its own - that it can only be experienced directly.’ Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner and The Believer


How does one react when one’s partner is diagnosed with cancer? In her new memoir Bedtime Story, Chloe Hooper is forced to grapple with that question when her partner, Don, is diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of leukaemia, one that is almost certainly fatal. Chloe and Don have two young children, boys aged four and seven. Don is an older father, and Chloe wryly observes that she is only a few years older than Don’s daughter by his first marriage. Though she already knows their sons’ time with Don is finite, the prospect that their beloved, kind and funny partner and father would be snatched away even sooner is unthinkable.

How too are Don and Chloe going to reveal this possibility to the boys? After the initial diagnosis, Chloe wonders how she’s going to educate them about the dark: ‘how do I explain something that adults find near impossible to fathom?’ Bedtime Story is addressed to the older boy (we never find out his name); it’s a rumination on life and death, on relationships between parents and children and between lovers, in a time of grave crisis.

Chloe looks to literature to seek answers to questions about life, and death in particular. She ranges across the works of Freud, the great poets, the Brothers Grimm, J. M. Barrie, Homer, Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll, Louisa May Alcott and others, looking for, and sometimes finding, insights. As she takes us through her reading, we also hear of her love for her two boys and her fears of losing a partner, as well as the awful reality of the treatment: ‘Don is quiet, sombre, as he’s hooked up to the drip.’ Around him sit other patients – some shockingly young – and Chloe, sitting next to him in a nondescript office chair, reflects that for some, the prospect of hope that treatment brings will result in nothing. That this may be Don’s fate too, she doesn’t say.

Bedtime Story is a special and unique book that tackles illness amongst the living in a deeply profound and beautiful way.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings

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