Picador is to publish a memoir by Cathy Rentzenbrink, associate editor at The Bookseller and director of Quick Reads, remembering her brother, who aged 16 was knocked down by a car and left in a permanent vegetative state.
The book, which does not yet have a title, has been described as “incredibly devastating” by Picador editorial director Francesca, who acquired UK and Commonwealth rights at auction from Jo Unwin at the Jo Unwin Literary Agency.
Rentzenbrink’s brother Matty was hit by a car on a night out just a fortnight before his GCSE results. After several years of caring for him, Rentzenbrink and her family “reached a point where they felt he should be allowed to die with dignity”.
The case to allow Matty to die went to court, which ruled in their favour. However, due to restrictions around euthanasia, the only option was to withdraw Matty’s nutrition and hydration and wait. He died 13 days later, eight years after his accident.
Rentzenbrink said she was moved to write the book after working with emergent readers. “From early childhood I wanted to write books as well as read them, but after the night of my brother’s accident my words went AWOL,” she said.
“I could no longer keep my diary, I couldn’t find a way to express what had happened to Matty or the effect it had on me and my parents. Over the years, as my words drifted back, I sought and found sanctuary not only in books, but in bookshops, with book people and in talking and writing about other people’s stories.
“Then, as I spent time with emergent adult readers, often in prisons, I saw how damaging it is for someone to hold on to a toxic narrative, not to be able to express or make sense of his or her own experience, and it was this that forced me to look again at what happened to my beautiful brother and to tell his – and my – story.”
She added that she hoped the book would “be of use to anyone suffering the guilt and grief that comes with witnessing a long death”.
Main said the book was “one of the most moving pieces of writing I have ever read”.
“Cathy writes beautifully, with unflinching honesty and raw emotional power,” she continued. “Although this is a unique and intensely personal story, it is also one with universal resonance – one that will speak to anyone who has lost someone close to them, to anyone who has fiercely loved a sibling, to anyone who has ever wondered whether prolonging a loved one’s life might be worse than letting them go.
“Ultimately, it’s a story of unconditional love, of family, grief and survival.”
Picador will publish the memoir in hardback in July 2015.
Rentzenbrink is also associate editor of The Bookseller's sister publication We Love This Book, and chair of this year's Booksellers Association conference.