Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Grief Observed...Observed

All right, now for this blog's first book review. Further up and further in!

A few days ago I read C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. It didn't take long, since it was 76 pages. I went into it knowing only what was on the flap, which declared, 

"Written after his wife's tragic death as a way of surviving the 'mad midnight moments,' A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis's honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss." 

Thus, I read the first-person-narrated book as autobiography. Lewis even mentioned something about what notebooks he was using to write this all down, which added more authenticity to the story. 

Well, fast-forward to a few days later at breakfast. (Or was it lunch, or maybe dinner? Meals tend to blend together.) In the midst of reading a book called The Riddle of Joy, a collection of speeches and essays about Chesterton and Lewis, I skipped forward to the middle of a speech by Lewis's former secretary, Walter Hooper, because I saw that he was writing about A Grief Observed. And I started laughing. 

The flap was wrong. At least, according to this guy's experiences with Lewis. The book was not autobiographical, and Lewis actually took pains to make sure that people knew that! He published under a pseudonym and with a different publisher than he usually used, but everyone still guessed it was him and assumed that the book narrated his personal struggles. 

He got letters from people saying that they knew he was the real author. According to Hooper,

"I don't recall anything which seemed to irritate him [Lewis] so much. The response which he dictated to me usually began, 'All right. So you know.' As he made clear in a number of his books, he found it annoying when people found it impossible to understand an author's ability to 'invent.'"

I thought that was hilarious. And how serendipitous that I discovered that right after reading the book! Poor Lewis must have rolled over in his grave when they published that front flap.

All right, moving on to A Grief Observed itself:

Isn't this a gorgeous cover? I like these reprints.

Now that I know that it was not an actual autobiography, a lot of the book's impact has faded. Its real attraction (at least to me) was the revelation that even a brilliant man and a great apologist had struggles and doubts. Much of A Grief Observed is the narrator wallowing in emotional and intellectual pain, trying to deal with his sense of loss as well as his doubts about God's goodness. 

I suppose the book, even as fiction, is interesting in itself, especially with what Lewis said about it (also taken from Hooper):

"'The structure of it,' he [Lewis] said, 'Is based on Dante's Divine Comedy. You go down and down and down. Then, as in Dante, when you hit bottom and pass Lucifer's waist you go up to defense of God's goodness.'"

Yep, that's the structure. There's a lot of despair and darkness in the book until the very end, when the author acknowledges that suffering is necessary for him to see his own dependence on God, and thus suffering does not contradict the goodness of God because God is allowing suffering for a greater good. At least that's what I got out of it from the first read-through. 

Did I like it? Why yes, yes, I did. (Thanks, Zootopia, for aiding my writing style.  :D ) It interested me, although more intellectually than emotionally. For some reason I didn't really "get into" it, probably because it was so short that I didn't have time to get into the narrator's head. But there were some gorgeous passages in there, and the depressing parts made me really appreciate those. At the end when the narrator finally came round I was super excited.

As a whole I think it's pretty good and it's worth reading for some amazing little quotes, like that monkey bars one.

Anyway, those are my two cents. You should read it and let me know what you think! Or if you've already read it you should still let me know what you think. Or you can write a post of your own on it! Looking at you, Meredith.   ;)

I should probably give you a content warning too. As usual with C.S. Lewis's books directed at adults, it's clean but it has some references to married love. It's not explicit but it still isn't stuff for younger readers.

I'll let Hooper finish off:
"It should be emphasized that Lewis never said that A Grief Observed was autobiography, and he told me that it was not. This does not mean that he didn't grieve over the death of his wife. He may have grieved more than is recorded in A Grief Observed. But that is a story which may never be known, and which is perhaps none of our business anyway."


  1. Well written. I like your thought pattern. Stucko

  2. Interesting! Since it's only 76 pg., this would be a good lazy Sunday afternoon-read.

    Haha, that's kind of funny about not finding out until afterwards that it wasn't autobiographical. Although it must have been inspired by Lewis's experiences, right?

    Yesss, the cover is so pretty. I also really like the cover for Screwtape Letters, which is on my reading list this school year.

    Haha, maybe I will. ;)

    1. Sorry, the comment below is supposed a reply to yours, Meredith. I have yet to get the hang of this whole "internet" thing. :)

    2. I do that sometimes! Or I'll accidentally reply to a previous comment when I meant to just comment normally. :)

      Is your copy of Screwtape Letters the one with a fountain pen and ink splotches on the front?

  3. Yeah, it seems like it would be hard to write about something like that without bringing in personal experience.

    I think I must have the same copy of the Screwtape Letters! I hope you enjoy it. I found it to be really good but also a bit daunting because it described so many possible ways that temptations can come.

  4. Screw tape letters was amazing. I never finished.

    1. You should totally finish it! The ending is even more amazing than the rest. :)

  5. Replies
    1. I'm just biding my time. Muahahahaha.

  6. Oh. Lol. Ok.should I be worried about that evil laugh?


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