"We're on our own in life and fate will always deal exactly the cards it wishes, no matter the will or love of any human being." Picture this. It's early morning in New York City. You're going for your daily run, as you do every morning. But this time you don't hit your usual stride. You feel odd. Weak. Off. You feel liquid running down your legs? Is it sweat or have you wet yourself? Panic sets in. It turns out that Caro Llewellyn is diagnosed with M.S (multiple sclerosis). This knocks her for a six. Caro always thought she was indestructible and lived her life accordingly. She got this belief in herself from her Dad.
Caro's father Richard fell victim to polio at the ripe old age of 20. He was a sailor, revelling in the freedom that life on the sea availed him. It was such an unfortunate event, happening at the end of the polio epidemic. The level of devastation on his body would not have occurred if proper access to medical care was made immediately available. Sadly this was not the case. Paralysis set in, and he was confined to a wheelchair as a result. But Richard was a determined and charismatic character*. Wooing his nurse and marrying her, Caro & her brother Hugh completed their family. He never felt sorry for himself. He just got on with things. Which is a lesson Caro took with her through to adulthood. To be stoical. To never complain and just get on with things. "His great lesson was to teach me that we're free as we allow our minds to be. Imagination can save your life if you need it to. "
I enjoyed reading about Caro's family life, which was certainly different to most. The dynamic often being fraught with upsets and anger, as dealing with a family member who is completely reliant on others, is not easy. It was quite chaotic and difficult for Caro as a keenly empathetic child to deal with the emotions of her parents. Eventually love falls to the wayside. And the fallout is spectacular. I was surprised that so much of the book was about Caro's father and growing up in Adelaide, rather than how Caro is dealing with M.S. But that's ok. It's her story to tell as she needs to. The final quarter of the story is where we again join Caro as an adult. Living life to the fullest, at breakneck speed. Throwing herself completely into whatever cause she was following or whomever she was loving. Living in various countries. Eventually understanding the darkness her mother must have felt when she no longer loved Caro's father. Realisations hit hard. Caro finds that parts of her are more like her Mum than she'd care to admit. The title is oh-so-apt. I realise that it is a line in the book where she is diving into the sea on hearing of her father's cancer diagnosis. But to me, it must also be how Caro Llewellyn felt when she got her M.S diagnosis.
I liked this book so very much. It's down to earth. It's not self pitying. There are plenty of funny and even joyous moments. It makes you realise that life can throw you curveballs, regardless of how "prepared" you think you are for them. An absolutely beautifully written memoir. Full of human frailty. I encourage you to read it. "...life is like that. It all depends on how you look at it, and from whose perspective. What you know or don't know, what you see or don't see, changes everything." *** Leap and the net will appear ***
At twenty years of age Caro’s father was struck down by Polio. He was confined to an iron lung, his own lungs unable to perform their vital role. The doctors said he would not last more than a few days. Three years later he went on to marry the nurse that looked after him and become the father of Caro and her older brother. The saddest and most cruel part of Caro’s father’s story is that Polio was all but eliminated by vaccine when he was struck down with it. He was one of the last in Australia not to escape its deadly grasp. Believing in Karma, believing that what had happened to her father ensured that she would be safe. Caro felt bullet-proof, skating through life in what she saw as a big adventure. Caro decided to live her life for her father as well as herself, and she lived it to the hilt. Then one day running in New York’s Central Park. Caro was pulled up short unable to keep running. She had just celebrated her forty-fourth birthday. She checked herself into hospital and she was shocked by the neurologist’s prognosis. Caro was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Her first thoughts were “Why me?”. She had lived her life well. Never afraid, taking on all challenges. Why had Karma deserted her?
“We’re on our own in life and fate will always deal exactly the cards it wishes, no matter the will or love of any human being.”
As Llewellyn tells her story, she constantly compares her struggle with her father’s. Dipping back and forth between the past and the present. The struggles he faced and overcame so very much like her own. Her father taught her never to give in to self-pity.
Because of his illness Caro’s father was a virtual constant figure in her childhood. Most fathers would see their children in the morning before school then at the end of the day after work. So, the Polio did give Caro and her father one positive point, each other. An unbreakable bond was formed between the two and you realise how much her father and his illness forged Llewellyn into the woman she is today. The stories of Llewellyn’s early childhood are a joy to read and the writing beautifully descriptive, I love this passage,
“On race days we often lay down on the grass right underneath the white wooden fence of the track’s inner border, with our ears to the ground. The rumble of hoofs pulsed through my small five-year-old body I could feel the horses through the earth long before they took the last turn onto the straight in front of the old wooden member’s stand. It was exhilarating. The thunderous sound as the horses galloped around the corner – almost upon us – the smell of horse sweat mixed with the loamy track kicked up under the horses’ hoofs, the sound of men shouting, the crack of whips on rumps, the guttural sounds of the horses stretched out at full pelt”. You could almost be excused for thinking you were there with Llewellyn and her brother. And this beautiful writing remains constant throughout the whole memoir. I must admit that I was expecting more of the book to be about Caro’s personal struggle with multiple sclerosis and kept waiting for her story to emerge, but after awhile I found myself enjoying the memoir so much that it didn’t matter. Caro’s own life and struggle with multiple sclerosis only plays a tiny role at the end of the book and at times it seems that this memoir is more about the father than Caro.
As with fiction and non-fiction, memoirs must be enjoyable to read, and this one is. Llewellyn’s writing is exquisite and descriptive. At times it is hard to put the book down because Llewellyn knows how to spin a great yarn. Llewellyn is a born storyteller, gifted with that intangible ability to turn an everyday memory into an interesting anecdote. An extremely enjoyable read. 4 Stars.
Again we agree on a rating and we both gave it 4 stars, giving "Diving Into Glass" a total of 8 out of 10. It's a great memoir and I would recommend it to all readers.