September was the third month of my subscription with the Rare Birds Book Club and the chosen book was Goodbye, Vitamin, the debut novel by Rachel Khong. This was a book I hadn’t heard of before so I was interested to find out more about what this was about!
When I first glanced at the cover, I got the impression that this would be a light, potentially ‘quirky’ little read. But as I settled down to read it on a lazy Sunday afternoon I quickly discovered that there was a lot more packed into what is a relatively short novel which I finished that afternoon. I immediately found the character of Ruth relatable, as a fellow thirty year old contemplating their future! We learn that Ruth’s career is going nowhere, as is her relationship to her fiancé. But her family is dealt a devastating blow when they discover that her father, a beloved history professor, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas time, as her father’s health deteriorates, her mother asks her to stay and help care for him for a year. And so begins a year spent in the company of Ruth and her family, as we get a get a glimpse of their life together, and see how they adapt to this significant change, learning to cope with their loved ones illness.
The story is told almost in a diary format with snippets from each day providing a snapshot of daily life for Ruth and her family. As a fan of the epistolary format this was something I enjoyed, and it allows the reader an overview of events through the year as their circumstances change. The narrative was non-linear, switching back and forth through time, exploring different stories and memories building up a vivid picture of their life together over the years, the little things that mean the most to them. This might not be to every readers taste but I liked that it formed a collection of stories and musings, some that were humorous and others that were heart wrenching. I found the messages from a father to his daughter from her childhood to be particularly moving and heartfelt. In these moments I felt Rachel Khong has captured perfectly the love between a parent and child, and how a simple act or exchange between them can stick long in the memory. As the story involves a relative with Alzheimer’s this is a difficult subject but it has been tackled here with sensitivity. I was keen to see how things would progress, and along the way it explores themes of family and relationships, capturing the beauty of ordinary life.
Goodbye, Vitamin was an enjoyable little book and one which I wouldn’t have perhaps picked up ordinarily but it was one I am glad to have read. It is a poignant, well written debut novel which explores life at its best and its worst, the story of a family’s love and determination, as they try to form a new relationship with a beloved father.
Goodbye, Vitamin was the September book from Rare Birds Book Club, you can find out more about them and how to subscribe on their website here.