Slings and Arrows and Gone; omnibus edition by Julie Elizabeth Powell

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This omnibus edition combines two books by Julie Elizabeth Powell, the first being a non-fiction account of her daughter Samantha’s life and death.

Slings & Arrows is a moving account of the loss of a child. Julie Elizabeth Powell’s second daughter, Samantha, was born with major heart defects and having survived surgery, the hope was that she would be able to recover fully and lead a normal life. However, this was not to be. Samantha’s heart stopped beating when she was in her third year, and although she was resuscitated, she suffered a huge amount of brain damage. She eventually died, for a second time, when she was seventeen.

This account is far from being a straightforward chronicle of events in the lives of Samantha and her family: it is an honest examination of the author’s emotions and feelings during all of her precious child’s life and after. The guilt that she had not given birth to a perfect child; the fear that she would inadvertently harm her delicate baby; the relief when the initial surgery seemed to work so well – these are all feelings that many mothers have felt to a greater or lesser degree. However, the terrible escalation of these emotions after Samantha’s first death and the introduction of so many others, comprise our worst nightmares.

This is a courageous and moving book. We can feel the author’s pain throughout and there is so much to admire in the way in which she has coped with living. I was glad to read that she found some solace in her family, in studying and that writing has provided such a lifeline for her. What could have been a purely bleak read proved to be a thought provoking and, in, many ways, inspirational experience.

The second book in the omnibus is Gone.
This is a novel that was inspired by the above mentioned heartbreaking period in the author’s life, but in itself, it is not a sad book. In fact, it’s an inspiring and hopeful read.
Charley Woods is the mother of Jenny, who was left with severe brain damage at the age of two. When we first meet Charley, it is fifteen years after this devastating event, and Charley is a wreck. She is wracked by guilt, she comfort eats and generally leads a stressful life. She visits the shell that is her teenage daughter and we are told that “she hated every visit”. Then one day, Charley has a heart attack and finds herself….where? From this point, we embark, with Charley on a voyage of discovery. Is she going mad, or is the world in which she finds herself real? How can the lovely young woman that she meets be her daughter?
Charley asks herself many questions throughout the book and the author uses these questions and challenges to explore the concepts of hope, forgiveness and living without fear.
I suppose that in many ways, “Gone” could be called a fairy tale for adults. There are some wonderful scenes and characters that Charley meets on her quest. I particularly enjoyed the episodes with the talking flower, Penelope, and also enjoyed the characters, Brogan and Chamber. Charley’s quest in the Orb of Caprice is gripping and exciting, as she strives to reach her goal.
This is a book that works on several levels and will stay with me for a long time.

I would thoroughly recommend this omnibus edition; to see how the author used the tragedy of Samantha’s life to inspire her fiction is interesting and altogether inspirational.

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