Non-fiction Book of the Month: The Last Act of Love

Posted on 29th April 2016 by Peter Whitehead & Martha Greengrass
For some years, Cathy Rentzenbrink was a fellow soldier-in-arms at Waterstones, beginning her career as a bookseller across several of our stores in London. Ultimately she fled the nest to become Project Director to the charity Quick Reads and now, as a full-time writer and books journalist, a familiar voice in British publishing. Regional buyer Martha Greengrass introduces Cathy’s heartbreakingly honest memoir, The Last Act of Love.

When we think of love, what do we think of? Romantic love, parental love, friendship – all are widely covered in the pages of books. Accounts of sibling relationships are harder to find, yet for many of us it is one of the most profound relationships of our lives; one of our earliest encounters with love, one which stays with us throughout our lives.

The Last Act of Love is a book about Cathy Rentzenbrink’s own relationship with her brother, Matty. In 1990, when Matty was just weeks away from getting his GCSE results, he was in a hit and run accident and left in a permanent vegetative state. This book is the love that came before this event and what happens in the aftermath of tragedy.

I confess that I came to read The Last Act of Love with no small degree of trepidation. Familiar with the subject matter, I was nervous of delving into the private details of something so personal. I needn’t have been. I came away from reading the book with a profound sense of gratitude and privilege. This book is absorbing, original and profoundly affecting but, more than that, it is essential. It is a book you read and then immediately feel the urge to press into someone else’s hands. It is so generous spirited that reading it feels like a gift - one which should be passed on.

Cathy’s relationship with her brother was one that struck a chord with me. Like her, I also have one sibling, a brother and like her I grew up in Yorkshire but this isn’t why. To write about personal love and loss takes bravery. To do so in a way which identifies common feeling, to be both deeply personal and utterly relevant to other people’s lives, takes enormous skill. For anyone who has experienced love in any form or who has ever encountered grief, this book will strike a chord. This book makes you look hard at what love really means. It holds a mirror up to the ways in which we suffer for loving deeply but also how our lives are immeasurably richer for it.

More than anything, The Last Act of Love tells important truths about how to live fully and love well. What more can any of us aspire to?


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