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The Museum of Words: A Memoir of Language, Writing, and Mortality

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In late 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting right in the language centre of her brain. Prior to this, Georgia’s only warning had been a niggling sense that her speech was slightly awry. She ignored it, and on a bright spring day, as she was mowing the lawn, she collapsed on a bed of blossoms, blood frothing at her mouth. Waking up to find herself in the In late 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting right in the language centre of her brain. Prior to this, Georgia’s only warning had been a niggling sense that her speech was slightly awry. She ignored it, and on a bright spring day, as she was mowing the lawn, she collapsed on a bed of blossoms, blood frothing at her mouth. Waking up to find herself in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital, she tries to answer questions, but is unable to speak. After the shock of a bleak prognosis and a long, gruelling treatment schedule, she immediately turns to writing to rebuild her language and herself. At the same time, her mother, Anne Deveson, moves into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s; weeks earlier, her best friend and mentor had been diagnosed with the same brain tumour. All three of them are writers, with language at the core of their being. The Museum of Words is a meditation on writing, reading, first words and last words, picking up thread after thread as it builds on each story to become a much larger narrative. This idiosyncratic and deeply personal memoir is a writer’s take on how language shapes us, and how often we take it for granted — until we are in danger of losing it.


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In late 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting right in the language centre of her brain. Prior to this, Georgia’s only warning had been a niggling sense that her speech was slightly awry. She ignored it, and on a bright spring day, as she was mowing the lawn, she collapsed on a bed of blossoms, blood frothing at her mouth. Waking up to find herself in the In late 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting right in the language centre of her brain. Prior to this, Georgia’s only warning had been a niggling sense that her speech was slightly awry. She ignored it, and on a bright spring day, as she was mowing the lawn, she collapsed on a bed of blossoms, blood frothing at her mouth. Waking up to find herself in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital, she tries to answer questions, but is unable to speak. After the shock of a bleak prognosis and a long, gruelling treatment schedule, she immediately turns to writing to rebuild her language and herself. At the same time, her mother, Anne Deveson, moves into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s; weeks earlier, her best friend and mentor had been diagnosed with the same brain tumour. All three of them are writers, with language at the core of their being. The Museum of Words is a meditation on writing, reading, first words and last words, picking up thread after thread as it builds on each story to become a much larger narrative. This idiosyncratic and deeply personal memoir is a writer’s take on how language shapes us, and how often we take it for granted — until we are in danger of losing it.

30 review for The Museum of Words: A Memoir of Language, Writing, and Mortality

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marialyce

    What if the things you love most to do are taken away from you? What if the things that define you are lost? What if your life is to be cut ever so short? What if you had an incurable brain tumor? The above questions were ones that needed to be faced by the writer Georgia Blain, who in 2015 was given an awful diagnosis, that of a brain tumor lodged in the portion of her brain responsible for language. In this poignant memoir, Georgia writes so eloquently of the things that writing and reading are What if the things you love most to do are taken away from you? What if the things that define you are lost? What if your life is to be cut ever so short? What if you had an incurable brain tumor? The above questions were ones that needed to be faced by the writer Georgia Blain, who in 2015 was given an awful diagnosis, that of a brain tumor lodged in the portion of her brain responsible for language. In this poignant memoir, Georgia writes so eloquently of the things that writing and reading are to her. She is well aware of her prognosis and as she reflects on her writing life as well as her life as a wife, daughter, mother and friend. She informs the reader of what the written word has meant to her, how it is part and parcel of who she is. Not only faced with her illness, Georgia also is faced with her brilliant well known mother, Anne Deveson, being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and watch this once vibrant woman succumb to this heinous disease. Tragically, Georgia's best friend, Rosie, is also diagnosed with the very same type of brain tumor as she has, and as she watches Rosie deteriorate she sees herself. This memoir is Georgia's tribute to who she was, what she was, and how her mother, her daughter, Odessa, and her friend, Rosie, meant the world to her. Her world of words, of writing was going away quickly but she left this memoir for us to learn to truly appreciate the gift of language. Definitely recommended to all of us who love the written word, the use of language, and the eloquence of dying. Tragically, Georgia passed away in December of 2016. Thank you to Georgia Blain, Scribe, and Edelweiss for making a copy of this tragic yet beautiful memoir. This book is due to be published on February 5, 2019 My reviews can also be found here: http://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpress...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lockman

    Not long after her diagnosis, Georgia was writing a monthly column about her experience of her illness in The Saturday Paper but soon got tired of it: My column about cancer was easy at first, but at the end of my first six months of treatment, I wanted to give it up. I felt I had nothing left to say, and because I was trying to spin new material out of the same raw ingredients, it felt dishonest. Everything came down to the same pinprick piercing the page: We are all dying. We should be living l Not long after her diagnosis, Georgia was writing a monthly column about her experience of her illness in The Saturday Paper but soon got tired of it: My column about cancer was easy at first, but at the end of my first six months of treatment, I wanted to give it up. I felt I had nothing left to say, and because I was trying to spin new material out of the same raw ingredients, it felt dishonest. Everything came down to the same pinprick piercing the page: We are all dying. We should be living life appreciating the beauty of the ordinary. But so often we don’t. And this is the eternal human paradox: the only way we can cope with our mortality is to ignore it, to live as though we have all the time in the world. Georgia was diagnosed with brain cancer (Stage 4, Glioblastoma Multiforme) in November 2015, and died thirteen months later at just 51 years of age. She began writing this book shortly after her diagnosis and in a bizarre and cruel coincidence, her best friend Rosie was also diagnosed with exactly the same cancer just a few weeks prior to Georgia. To add further irony, I understand one of the main characters in Georgia’s most recent novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, suffered from brain cancer. Around the same time as Rosie and Georgia learned they had this very aggressive cancer, Georgia’s mother Anne Deveson, the well-known broadcaster, writer and filmmaker, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Needless to say it was one hell of a difficult time for everyone connected with the family. In the book there are somewhat disparate themes. Georgia reflects on her life, her mortality and death and dying but also talks about her love of writing, about words and language and naturally Rosie, Anne and Georgia’s daughter Odessa feature prominently. On writing Georgia mentions plot: As a writer, I have found myself growing ever more frustrated by the need for plot. It often seems like a clanking piece of machinery dragging along behind me. What interests me more is mood, or character, or setting, and I want the plot to be woven in artfully, almost invisible, a narrative drive humming underneath, propelling us forward. Naively, the first time I wrote about my life in Birth Deaths Marriages, I thought I would escape these shackles. Looking back, I find it strange that I had such foolish expectation. Life is an amorphous mess, a huge soup of details that we wade our way through, and in order to make sense of what is happening to us, we impose structure, or narrative. It is inescapable. Language is controlled by the left-hand side of the frontal lobe and this is exactly where her tumour was located. On adjectives and nouns Gloria muses: I was surprised to learn that there is an order to our placement of adjectives in English. I am sipping coffee out of a small, seventies, brown china mug as I write. If I said I had my coffee in a seventies, small, china, brown mug, you might think that I was not an English speaker or that there was something wrong with my speech. (Nouns are) the building blocks. The first words we often express when we learn a language. The things we need or desire, the objects we want to alert another to; and when we first begin to speak, we often accompany those words by pointing. If the nouns are gone it’s impossible. These are the words on which we hang all other words. On writing helping her get through such a tough time; The mental battle is extraordinary. I do well for weeks at a time, and then I come undone. I am on the brink of an abyss so dark and deep I cannot breathe, my head dizzy as I peer down, my legs unsteady, my body ready to topple over the edge. There is nothing anyone can say to haul me away. I have to do it myself, crawling back from the lip of the crater towards all that I love in life, while knowing that I have to loosen the grip of everything I hold most dear. I am not afraid of dying. What I am afraid of is saying goodbye. Time and time again, writing is my lifeline, the rope that I use, inch by inch, word by word. It is the way in which I forget myself, even though I am writing about myself. Some days, I feel it is the means by which I am keeping myself alive, escaping the death sentence of this illness for another day. This book wasn’t on my to read list but I happened to be in one of my local libraries and saw it on the new releases shelf. Bravo Georgia Blain for having the courage and tenacity to write a heartfelt ‘memoir’ and a final parting gift to us all. l just had to give it five stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carol - Reading Writing and Riesling

    My View: The Museum of Words is gently and wisely written; it speaks of truths, of family history, of love and of course, of dying. It was deeply moving yet not depressing or self-indulgent. Georgia Blain was a wordsmith extraordinaire, her love of words enriched the page. I wish there were more pages to turn, more books to read by this amazing writer. A lyrical, moving read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    There’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction and Georgia Blain’s exquisite posthumous memoir, The Museum of Words is testimony to this. We often expect reality as we experience it to be less dramatic than fiction, and most of the time it is. But this was a perfect storm: a confluence of dark clouds gathering, all lined up in the horizon, every one of them heading my way. In November 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting in the middle of the language centre of her brain. S There’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction and Georgia Blain’s exquisite posthumous memoir, The Museum of Words is testimony to this. We often expect reality as we experience it to be less dramatic than fiction, and most of the time it is. But this was a perfect storm: a confluence of dark clouds gathering, all lined up in the horizon, every one of them heading my way. In November 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting in the middle of the language centre of her brain. She had no warning, apart from a niggling sense that her speech wasn’t quite right. It was as though the building blocks of my sentences, so much that we say without even thinking about the words we are choosing, had gone. Weeks earlier, her best friend and mentor, Rosie Scott, had been diagnosed with the same type of brain tumour. And at the same time, Blain’s mother, Anne Deveson, was moved into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. All this happened as Blain was in the final stages of editing her latest novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog – the main character in the story has a brain tumour. If the plot line for Between a Wolf and a Dog had followed this last year of my life, I hope that my editor would have advised me to lose a cloud or two. “The central character has just put her mother in a home with Alzheimer’s, her mentor and best friend has terminal brain cancer, she has written a book about terminal brain cancer, and now she has it, too,” she would have said. “Maybe a little too much?”. Reflecting ‘…who would I be without words?‘, Blain turned to writing to rebuild her language and herself. In The Museum of Words, she shares various memories relating to reading and writing. There’s a particular vividness and elegance to these simply told memories. Of childhood, she said – I began to make up stories of my own – horse stories, boarding-school stories, sometimes written down with pen and paper, sometimes just muttered to myself as I bounced my netball up and down the garden path, driving everyone crazy. She also talks about her relationship with her mother and her own daughter, Odessa, in terms of reading and writing. But it all circles back to the central and unavoidable theme – Once I said to Odessa that writing was the only activity in which I could forget time, and when you forget time, you forget mortality. Blain never intended to write an ‘illness memoir’, noting that such memoirs are written with the benefit of hindsight, when there is distance and understanding of the experience. She knew that ‘hindsight’ was not a luxury that would be afforded to her. She knew that she wasn’t ‘battling’ cancer, that she was living with it. And she knew that she wanted to continue to document her life, as she had always done. I have written my life over and over again (many writers do), seeking out commonality of experience with my characters, perhaps trying to affirm that I am not as unlikable or uncharitable as I fear I am. Despite Blain’s intention to avoid pronouncements on life and illness, she eloquently gets to the root of it – ‘…this is the eternal human paradox: the only way we can cope with our mortality is to ignore it, to live as though we have all the time in the world.’ There were so many moments when, as I was reading this book, my eyes filled with tears. But it was this that broke me – There is nothing anyone can say to haul me away. I have to do it myself, crawling back from the lip of the crater towards all that I love in life, while knowing that I have to loosen the grip of everything I hold most dear. I am not afraid of dying. What I am afraid of is saying goodbye. Georgia died in December 2016. Anne died two days later, on what would have been Georgia’s 52nd birthday. Rosie died in May 2017. All three women were writers, with language at the core of their being. 4/5 Is it wrong to have wanted more?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Suzie Bull

    From the first sentence, you fall in love with Georgia once again. It is a homage to her love for her mother, her daughter, her friend Rosie, all interspersed with her love of reading and her love of language. Sadly it is also part reflection on the ravages of her terminal illness and how it stripped her of her use of words and memories.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Zora

    I bought this book some time ago yet could not bring myself to read it. What gave me pause was not the subject matter - Georgia Blain was dying from a brain tumour as she wrote it, and her mother and dear friend Rosie were dying too - but the fear that a writer I much admire would not sparkle on the page as she did so impressively in her last novel Between a Wolf and A Dog. I need not have worried. Blain’s last book and memoir is a quiet gem, both urgent and still, and I am glad writing continue I bought this book some time ago yet could not bring myself to read it. What gave me pause was not the subject matter - Georgia Blain was dying from a brain tumour as she wrote it, and her mother and dear friend Rosie were dying too - but the fear that a writer I much admire would not sparkle on the page as she did so impressively in her last novel Between a Wolf and A Dog. I need not have worried. Blain’s last book and memoir is a quiet gem, both urgent and still, and I am glad writing continued to sustain her almost to the end, and that we now get to read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Waterford

    Another great book from Georgia Blain---all her memoir books have been delightful and brutally honest and her words sublime. This was the book she wrote while she was dying and she talks honestly about her relationships with her best friend Rosie Scott, her daughter and her mother. A delight to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    I have been putting off writing this review for months, just as I put off reading the book. Why? Quite simply I didn’t have the courage to face The Museum of Words knowing I would be reading the words of a writer who had since died but who somehow found the courage to face her impending death. And not only that but to write about it. Georgia Blain is a favourite writer of mine and it made me angry when people criticised her for her subject matter - the middle classes. Never mind her beautiful pr I have been putting off writing this review for months, just as I put off reading the book. Why? Quite simply I didn’t have the courage to face The Museum of Words knowing I would be reading the words of a writer who had since died but who somehow found the courage to face her impending death. And not only that but to write about it. Georgia Blain is a favourite writer of mine and it made me angry when people criticised her for her subject matter - the middle classes. Never mind her beautiful prose. But having read The Museum of Words, I now realise how wise she was too. Wise about the world and how difficult it can be to live in this world. That was obvious in the way she handled her characters, particularly in Between a Wolf and a Dog. I will now be working my way through the rest of her books and they will be, I know, something to look forward to and savour when life gets messy. Here is one of my favourite passages: “In my early twenties, I started getting more and more serious about short-story writing. I felt both immense pleasure and frustration when I wrote. It was all down to the balance: like a mathematical equation, I had pace on one side of the ledger, and a languid haze on the other, rich and threadbare, dark and light; sparse and intricate - all feeding into each other, a little bit of one, a mass of the other, never forgetting what had gone before, always one eye on the whole and each of its parts. And that doesn’t mean equality as such; it means precarious dips, wild races, and then a bask in the sunlight. Sometimes, I would labour for hours, building clumsy sentence on clumsy sentence, a structure that was squat and ugly and pedestrian, requiring a complete knock-down before I could progress. Other times, I wrote without any awareness of time and it was so liberating to be free of that constraint. Once, I said to Odessa that writing was the only activity in which I could forget time and when you forget time, you forget mortality.” I would argue that reading wonderful literature, such as Blain’s, is another such activity. So sad to think that I can no longer look forward to another Blain book after this one. I can only go back to what she wrote before.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Absolutely beautiful. There is significant content on the Mother Anne, daughter Odessa and friend Rosie interspersed with poignant personal inserts which took me somewhat by surprise. I have not been taken by this author's other books, (I have only read two) however, this one is a stunner.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

    I came across Georgia Blain earlier this year when her last novel was short-listed for the Stella Prize. I fell in love with Between a Wolf and a Dog and was saddened to hear the Blain had passed away. When I heard about The Museum of Words I knew I had to read it. Blain's memoir about her prognosis, facing losing her words, her writing, the heart-breaking prognosis of both her mother and close friend, Anne. This touching memoir will teach you not to take your words for granted.  I'm not quite su I came across Georgia Blain earlier this year when her last novel was short-listed for the Stella Prize. I fell in love with Between a Wolf and a Dog and was saddened to hear the Blain had passed away. When I heard about The Museum of Words I knew I had to read it. Blain's memoir about her prognosis, facing losing her words, her writing, the heart-breaking prognosis of both her mother and close friend, Anne. This touching memoir will teach you not to take your words for granted.  I'm not quite sure how to capture this memoir in words. This a beautiful, reflective and touching piece of work. The memoir of a writer who lost her words as her brain tumour was loaded in the language centre of her brain. Her story is interwoven with that of her mother's decline into dementia and her close friend's battle also with brain cancer. Blain is an evocative writer and I fell in love once again with her prose and tone. I was able to glide through the pages and chapters despite the tough subject matter. I was completely surprised to discover the Between a Wolf and a Dog was written prior to her diagnosis. The fact that one of the characters in this novel is dying of brain cancer, was almost self-prophetic. Instead any similarities or autobiographical content came from her mother and her batter with dementia rather than her own life. The Museum of Words is filled with touching and honest prose. It is heart-breaking that such an emotive and relatable voice was taken too soon. I do recommend picking this one up, especially if you are a fan of her work. I give the Museum of Words four stars. 

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jillwilson

    Lately I have been forgetting words. Not for long but I can tell that the synapses are not what they were. It’s disturbing – language for me is such an important part of what I am. It feels faintly ridiculous writing that – surely this is more or less true for everyone and yet I’m pretty certain that some people do more with language and value it more than others. I started this book thinking that it was a “dying memoir”. The last one I read of this genre was ‘When Breath Becomes Air’; a very mo Lately I have been forgetting words. Not for long but I can tell that the synapses are not what they were. It’s disturbing – language for me is such an important part of what I am. It feels faintly ridiculous writing that – surely this is more or less true for everyone and yet I’m pretty certain that some people do more with language and value it more than others. I started this book thinking that it was a “dying memoir”. The last one I read of this genre was ‘When Breath Becomes Air’; a very moving book. This book is moving too but for different reasons. In a period of just over a year, Blain copes with the full onslaught of her mothers dementia, with news that a close friend and mentor was dying of a brain tumour and then with the diagnosis of her own cancer. These elements are part of her exploration in the book of what it is to have and use and love to use language. She writes really effectively about the impact of her illness. “It is as though I am in a house that I know well, with all the lights off. My familiarity means that it is rare that I knock something over or cause an accident, but it would certainly be very difficult for me to explain to a visitor how to find his or her way around each room.” In an interview, Blain described the experience of chemotherapy as being one where she was looking through glasses with the wrong prescription lens. It makes completion of a book, a pretty major accomplishment. It’s a quiet, restrained book – beautifully described by this reviewer, Tegan Bennett Daylight who was a friend of Blain’s: “I had the sense as I read of the writer on the spine of a bare hill. She makes her way carefully across a sentence with the concentration of someone who might lose her balance and has nowhere to fall. “ (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/b...)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Janine

    Blain has called this last book ‘The Museum of Words’, and in reading it you can’t help but think that this is Blain’s own act of pinning up her life. Dying with brain cancer, with a glioblastoma the size of a golf ball, she writes of the experience of her illness, threaded by perverse coincidence with the illnesses of her mentor, friend and human rights activist Rosie Scott, who was dying with exactly the same condition, and her mother who was dying with Alzheimers. She writes of herself as dau Blain has called this last book ‘The Museum of Words’, and in reading it you can’t help but think that this is Blain’s own act of pinning up her life. Dying with brain cancer, with a glioblastoma the size of a golf ball, she writes of the experience of her illness, threaded by perverse coincidence with the illnesses of her mentor, friend and human rights activist Rosie Scott, who was dying with exactly the same condition, and her mother who was dying with Alzheimers. She writes of herself as daughter to Anne and in turn, as mother to her daughter Odette. Men do not play a large part in the story. This book is in many ways a love letter to all three of these women, to the act of writing, and in her final paragraph, an assertion of gratitude for life itself. See my review at https://residentjudge.wordpress.com/2...

  13. 4 out of 5

    felix

    This memoir was touching, but more as an insight into the life of a dying woman, more than a dying author. While I was led to believe the memoir would be about the descent of a writer into death, the book was not so. At first I was confused and it disheveled me somewhat, but I quickly readjusted and realised that this piece of writing was so deeply personal, it was a feat to have been published at all. The novel doesn't much focus on writing as a craft, or Blain's craft, but more the realities of This memoir was touching, but more as an insight into the life of a dying woman, more than a dying author. While I was led to believe the memoir would be about the descent of a writer into death, the book was not so. At first I was confused and it disheveled me somewhat, but I quickly readjusted and realised that this piece of writing was so deeply personal, it was a feat to have been published at all. The novel doesn't much focus on writing as a craft, or Blain's craft, but more the realities of dying when being in such a trade - her, her mother and close family friend all sharing the same situation, as it would happen. This spectacular display of fate seems unrealistic in a fictional setting, let alone an author's real life. It's been a year since Blain died, or there abouts. Even without reading any of her novels, one can feel the presence she would've had, and how much is lost when someone is taken in a way like this. It's a stark reminder of one's mortality, and that even when using the time doing something one loves, nothing is for certain. The underlying theme was the writing, being an author. This was an interesting refresh on the typical 'writing memoir', which is what I'd expected in the beginning. Blain didn't take a hackneyed approach of 'teaching her craft', because she knew she wasn't finished. She never had time to. But she knew that, as an author, there was some responsibility in her dying months to reflect upon this. And she did so, very graciously and far more generously than I'd first anticipated. And for that, we can only hope to be entirely grateful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    The Museum of Words is a reflection on the importance of language for identity and a sense of self - Blain ruminates on what matters more, understanding others, or being understood. Her writing is eloquent and honest, not shying away from the awfulness of her situation (and those of her mother and best friend). A beautiful book that will refresh how you look at the world and stop you taking language for granted.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan Miller

    What a sad thing that Blain wrote this while she was dying with a brain tumour. But her writing was so wise and I really liked reading about her grasp of writing and her literary interests going back to childhood. A wonderful legacy for her young daughter who seems to be heading on a literary path like her mother and grandmother Anne Deveson.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I feel I will have to reread this. I loved the seamless integrating of the beauty of language and family. Just wonderful and tragic.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Zohal

    This was good. A short but powerful read. It also was not what I was expecting.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This is much more than a writing or illness memoir. Georgia Blain's last book is a gift, a stark reminder to never take language and our ability to communicate for granted.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    Heartbreaking.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Magdalena

    In the Spring of 2015, writer Georgia Blain had a seizure that led to her being diagnosed with a brain tumour. The irony of that diagnosis is that Blain’s recently published award-winning novel Between a Wolf and a Dog featured a protagonist with a brain tumour. Her best friend and mentor Rosie Scott had  also recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Blain’s mother, the writer and broadcaster Anne Deveson, had Alzheimers. Not only was life imitating art for Blain, but all of these illnesses In the Spring of 2015, writer Georgia Blain had a seizure that led to her being diagnosed with a brain tumour. The irony of that diagnosis is that Blain’s recently published award-winning novel Between a Wolf and a Dog featured a protagonist with a brain tumour. Her best friend and mentor Rosie Scott had  also recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Blain’s mother, the writer and broadcaster Anne Deveson, had Alzheimers. Not only was life imitating art for Blain, but all of these illnesses struck precisely at the language centre of the brain - the struggle for recovery became a struggle for words. The Museum of Words pivots around these tragedies and tries to make sense of them and the need to find the right words in the face of a growing dysphasia. Though rooted in the daily, domestic trials of those last months, ultimately The Museum of Words is a thesis around life, and what it means to be alive, knowing, as we all do, that death is imminent. It’s also about language and words and what they can do, even as they’re being impaired: It [language] is a blind, unconscious process of transmission that will change from generation to generation. It is a living entity, beautiful, fluid, and so remarkable in its adaptability. (96) The book begins with Blain noticing something wrong with her speech, a slight slur and an odd forgetfulness that seemed just a bit more than aging. Right from the start, Blain makes the reader her confidante, and draws us in with such light, seemingly effortless prose that we don’t realise how much ground is being covered. Blain begins weaving together the threads of her mother’s progressing Alzheimer’s, her best friend’s brain tumour and her own tumour. Blain’s admiration and love for her mother, for her friend and mentor Rosie Scott, and for her daughter Odessa, permeate the book and show the interconnectedness of their world and the way in which these relationships charge and create something greater than each of the individuals. Blain presents their lives as an entanglement, language, love and support all working in sync: I know I’m falling into the trap of telling you about Rosie, rather than showing her to you. If I were teaching students and wanted them to bring a character to life, I would ask them to take her to a fictional supermarket and see what she does in there. An ordinary situation, I would say to the class. You could have her cleaning her house, or on a bus. But let’s take her shopping. (111) The book contains a number of black and white photographs mostly taken by Blain’s husband, filmmaker Andrew G Taylor, who also wrote the introduction to the book.  The images are of Blain’s mum Anne Deveson, Blain as a child, Blain and Anne together, Blain with Rosie Scott, and with her daughter Odessa. The photos convey Blain’s deep intelligence as well as the rich bonds between mothers and daughters, creating a link between these generational ties and punctuating the prose. It seems to me that The Museum of Words is like a series of images that the reader is invited to participate in the making of. While ostensibly the story of Blain’s illness, the book contains so much more: a series of permanent moments  where life, what Blain calls “an amorphous mess, a huge soup of detail that we wade our way through” becomes meaningful and transcendent, even triumphant. It’s clear from the narrative that these moments come from connection: mother to daughter, partnership, deep friendship, and the gift of language which endures even as it’s disintegrating: I will stretch and reach for the right tenses, the clauses the overarching structure to form a precise but shimmering picture of what I want to represent. (157) Of course we know the ending of the story – there are no spoilers - and from this side of the fence, it feels tragic. Blain knows that her second seizure, which occurred ten months after the first “on that carpet of lilac and coral-red” – the one colour image presented on the last page, is the beginning of her imminent decline. Her self-awareness is no less heartbreaking for the clear, unsentimental depiction. The Museum of Words is a eulogy, not just to Blain, who died in December 2016, but to her mother Anne who died a few days later and Rosie Scott too, who died within five months of Anne’s death. Blain writes about her frustration with plot, and with the shackle of narrative, of cause and effect, and progression. Though most easily measured in months, days, and heartbeats, The Museum of Words is a story about language and how it’s able to move between and beyond the constriction of time. At one point, Blain talks about the light coming in – a dawning awareness of the privilege of life.  In this The Museum of Words is a universal story which encompasses all of our frailty and impending demise and encourages all of us to be grateful for the little time we have.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Di

    What a great loss - the loss of a relatively young life, the loss to herself, her family and to the world of literature. Georgia Blain was one of the truly great Australian writers and this sad memoir documenting her challenges with language and memory, and her musings on mortality, as a brain tumour destroys her life, is both beautiful and incredibly moving. I could not stop reading it. When speaking about her mother, Anne Deveson, who was succumbing to Alzheimer's disease, Blain mused on the fu What a great loss - the loss of a relatively young life, the loss to herself, her family and to the world of literature. Georgia Blain was one of the truly great Australian writers and this sad memoir documenting her challenges with language and memory, and her musings on mortality, as a brain tumour destroys her life, is both beautiful and incredibly moving. I could not stop reading it. When speaking about her mother, Anne Deveson, who was succumbing to Alzheimer's disease, Blain mused on the function of language. "If the function of language is to articulate our thoughts, to give access to our inner self, there is no doubt that Anne still has a functional grasp of language. It is just that her thoughts no longer make sense. However, if the function of language is to give order to our thoughts, to express our inner selves so that others can understand, Anne is losing her language." (p70) She explores writing and how it is done. "I know I'm falling into the trap of telling you about Rosie, rather than showing her to you. If I were teaching students, and I wanted them to bring a character to life, I would ask them to take her to a fictional supermarket and she what she does in there. An ordinary situation, I would say to the class. You could have her cleaning the house, or on a bus. But let's take her shopping. My good students, the one that never said much, would whisper quietly that Rosie would never go to ta supermarket. 'She lives in Glebe-she'd go to a fruit and veg shop, something much smaller. Or a market.' Would she do a big shop or buy what she needed for the day? ...a boy in the back would say, and right at the end she'd sneak a pack of cigarettes in, counting out her change. 'She doesn't really like to admit she's a smoker.' She's probably got a deal with the man in the green grocers, who sells her individual cigarettes, someone would say..." (p111)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Flavia

    This is a devastating book and yet manages to be so uplifting and beautiful that it deserves to be read carefully and slowly. As her husband says in his extremely touching foreword Georgia has a very “strong, clear voice” – she is never overly sentimental but manages to convey her love for people, words and this world effectively. In a quote at the back of the book she claims that: “Time and time again, writing is my lifeline, the rope I use, inch by inch, word by word. It is the way in which I This is a devastating book and yet manages to be so uplifting and beautiful that it deserves to be read carefully and slowly. As her husband says in his extremely touching foreword Georgia has a very “strong, clear voice” – she is never overly sentimental but manages to convey her love for people, words and this world effectively. In a quote at the back of the book she claims that: “Time and time again, writing is my lifeline, the rope I use, inch by inch, word by word. It is the way in which I forget myself, even though I am writing about myself. Some days, I feel it is the means by which I am keeping myself alive.” Georgia lived her life making sense of her world through her stories, words and language. In this compelling vibrant memoir she faces her mortality head on and matter-of-factly, daunted at the prospect of losing her words and questioning what becomes of us when language and meaning are not aligned. What happens to our experiences if we are unable to fix words to it? What is left of a human being when he/she is striped of language and memories? Georgia writes about her ties with her daughter, mother and mentor, Rosie Scott, by observing their own love and relationship with language and creative writing. She talks about foreign languages – parallel worlds of meaning and culture - and discusses the fine line between fiction and memoir (using Knausgard and Ferrante’s work as examples). She states that for her “…the line between fiction and life writing is never clear-cut. Each requires drawing on the self and distancing from the self.” This is a rich, thought-provoking memoir, testament to Georgia Blain’s talent as a writer and beauty and intelligence as a person.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Gilbert

    Georgia Blain was an amazing writer, and this book highlights all she did at her best. Having also read all her Saturday Paper monthly articles until she could no longer do it due to her deteriorating health, I have felt she was a woman whom had something to say. I first 'met' Georgia through her mother Anne Deveson's book 'Tell me I'm here' about her brother's decline with schitzophrenia, where she was the neglected younger daughter. I always wanted to know her journey, and when I discovered sh Georgia Blain was an amazing writer, and this book highlights all she did at her best. Having also read all her Saturday Paper monthly articles until she could no longer do it due to her deteriorating health, I have felt she was a woman whom had something to say. I first 'met' Georgia through her mother Anne Deveson's book 'Tell me I'm here' about her brother's decline with schitzophrenia, where she was the neglected younger daughter. I always wanted to know her journey, and when I discovered she herself was a writer, I have read nearly everything she has written with interest. This is her final chapter, she could have written with anger and pathos, but she writes here with compassion, for her own journey, but also for her mother's decline into Alzheimers and her best friend Rosie's journey having a brain tumour as well. My own father died of a brain tumour when I was 14, and having never been able to talk to him or my mother about his journey and eventual death, this was cathartic for me. I eagerly wait to see if Odessa follows her Mum and Grandma into a writing career, as I'm sure she has a lot to say, and with insight. Vale Georgia.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gaby Meares

    In his forward, Georgia’s life partner, Andrew Taylor, describes how he felt on reading her memoir shortly after her death. I cannot say it better..... As tender and painful as it was, once I started reading, I found it addictive. An old friend of mine once described melancholy as the feeling of enjoying being sad. I can’t say I enjoyed being sad, but I didn’t want this feeling to end. This is not only an extremely moving meditation on mortality, but an impassioned discussion about words, and lang In his forward, Georgia’s life partner, Andrew Taylor, describes how he felt on reading her memoir shortly after her death. I cannot say it better..... As tender and painful as it was, once I started reading, I found it addictive. An old friend of mine once described melancholy as the feeling of enjoying being sad. I can’t say I enjoyed being sad, but I didn’t want this feeling to end. This is not only an extremely moving meditation on mortality, but an impassioned discussion about words, and language, and how we struggle to use these tools to convey the workings of our hearts and minds. There is so much to gain from reading this book, so many nuggets of wisdom that I want to hug close, and return to again and again. However, I must share this one in particular, when Georgia and her daughter Odessa were wondering what gods she must of offended to have been burdened with so much loss and sorrow.... If there are gods, they are capricious and their motives are unfathomable. This is life, as I frequently remind myself. This is life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Wendyjune

    This book was amazing. Incredibly thoughtful and powerful. Blain lays herself bare, compassionately, and includes her mother (Anne) and best friend (Rosie) in this gift. It is the story of loosing words, for all three women- but she does not speak for them. She lets Anne and Rosie shine for the way they have used their words to impact her life, and taught her how to use her words to be herself. In that way she has given an incredible gift, one of being remembered. She also includes her daughter This book was amazing. Incredibly thoughtful and powerful. Blain lays herself bare, compassionately, and includes her mother (Anne) and best friend (Rosie) in this gift. It is the story of loosing words, for all three women- but she does not speak for them. She lets Anne and Rosie shine for the way they have used their words to impact her life, and taught her how to use her words to be herself. In that way she has given an incredible gift, one of being remembered. She also includes her daughter (Odessa) in this book. Odessa's use of words is one of the greatest joys in her life. I love how proud she is of her daughter, and how she refuses to reduce her to words, when she is so young and changeable. This book is Blain's goodbye to the world or words, the place where she was most comfortable and most herself. Blain's husband Andrew is left the task of getting this book finished, he contributes to the book in the Forword, and it is a wonderful asset to the book. He keeps Blain safe in this task, and let's her speak for herself.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I am so torn. In her memoir, Georgia Blain, an Australian novelist, is terminally ill and has since passed away. This is a quick read with an enlightening amount of time spent on the act/art of writing, and it is well-done. Ms. Blain was a talented writer. However, here’s my dilemma, and it is mine, may not be yours. I do understand the crying need to write one’s way through illness, particularly if faced with mortality, and I liked Ms. Blain a great deal. Unfortunately that “here’s another one” I am so torn. In her memoir, Georgia Blain, an Australian novelist, is terminally ill and has since passed away. This is a quick read with an enlightening amount of time spent on the act/art of writing, and it is well-done. Ms. Blain was a talented writer. However, here’s my dilemma, and it is mine, may not be yours. I do understand the crying need to write one’s way through illness, particularly if faced with mortality, and I liked Ms. Blain a great deal. Unfortunately that “here’s another one” feeling floated just above my head the whole way. That’s a shameful confession and probably a character flaw on my part, but, honestly, there really are a lot of these memoirs out there. They serve a purpose for both readers and writers; there are outstanding ones; and this one has merit. I leave it up to you. Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Scribe US via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and Edelweiss for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ezgi ☕️

    This autobiography is bitter sweet. Georgia Blain was destined to become a remarkable writer and brought down by a deadly diseased. Born to a family of artists and surrounded with editors, she chose to become a writer at a very early age. She writes about her daughter (which probably will follow her mother and grandmother's footsteps) and mother (she talks about her mother Anne a lot! and mentions this being one of her trademarks at the end of the book), her dear friend Rosie (which suffers the This autobiography is bitter sweet. Georgia Blain was destined to become a remarkable writer and brought down by a deadly diseased. Born to a family of artists and surrounded with editors, she chose to become a writer at a very early age. She writes about her daughter (which probably will follow her mother and grandmother's footsteps) and mother (she talks about her mother Anne a lot! and mentions this being one of her trademarks at the end of the book), her dear friend Rosie (which suffers the same fate as her, she talks about this as a dark, very dark irony), but her real love is language, her words... It is so sad to read how she loses it slowly.. as the disease progresses. She also witnesses this loss with her mom and her friend (Alzheimer and brain cancer, in this order). I think at some level, she is sad about this fact the most: "Not being able to communicate"... Museum of words is more like museum of this amazing lady's life. Full of small blessings and ability to write about them in the best way, while she could....

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Esots

    Georgia is an author who was willing to write through her loss and grief following her diagnosis of a brain tumour, while also coping with her best friends illness who was also diagnosed with a brain tumour, her mothers decline with alzheimers and being a mother, wife and writer, all at the same time. Her expertise is in bringing threads of experience and explorations on all these topics to the page. We see her grappling with her own search for words following neurosurgery and her treatment. The b Georgia is an author who was willing to write through her loss and grief following her diagnosis of a brain tumour, while also coping with her best friends illness who was also diagnosed with a brain tumour, her mothers decline with alzheimers and being a mother, wife and writer, all at the same time. Her expertise is in bringing threads of experience and explorations on all these topics to the page. We see her grappling with her own search for words following neurosurgery and her treatment. The book includes a collection of photos which focus on Georgia, her mother Anne Deveson and daughter Odessa. I am also a person who is fascinated by the workings of the brain and language. Georgia manages to examine where and how words are made. The forming of the word centre being in a different part of the brain to comprehension. I found myself totally absorbed in this memoir, unfortunately it is overshadowed by loss. Honest and articulate to a fault we are blessed to have had a writer so tenacious and brave.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Under Milkwood

    What a sobering, heartfelt way to conclude my year in reading. I wouldn't say that I have been a long time reader of Georgia Blain's books. In fact prior to this, her final work, I had only read "Closed for Winter" like millions of others and was totally mesmerized by it. Georgia Blain was enchanted by the art of writing, and upon learning of her death sentence from brain cancer in 2015, she set upon a one year vigil to transcribe all her literary thoughts to the printed page. Her own Museum of w What a sobering, heartfelt way to conclude my year in reading. I wouldn't say that I have been a long time reader of Georgia Blain's books. In fact prior to this, her final work, I had only read "Closed for Winter" like millions of others and was totally mesmerized by it. Georgia Blain was enchanted by the art of writing, and upon learning of her death sentence from brain cancer in 2015, she set upon a one year vigil to transcribe all her literary thoughts to the printed page. Her own Museum of words. And in so doing, she takes us, the reader, on a fascinating and emotional journey through her thought processes as she faces death. But it's all about the weight of words, particularly as she watches her own mother deteriorate from Alzheimer's and her best friend also fading from an incurable brain cancer. The Museum of Words is mercifully short but it's life affirming and indeed, death affirming.

  30. 5 out of 5

    EliseCaldwell

    This is an incredibly beautifully written memoir. It is predominantly a story of love and loss - the love of words that inspired Blain throughout her life and the tragic and unsettling loss of them after the diagnosis of her brain tumour. It is also a tribute to the relationships Blain had with her family, her mother, partner and daughter in particular, and her dear friend Rosie Scott with whom she shared both her love of language, and tragically, her fate of being diagnosed with a terminal brai This is an incredibly beautifully written memoir. It is predominantly a story of love and loss - the love of words that inspired Blain throughout her life and the tragic and unsettling loss of them after the diagnosis of her brain tumour. It is also a tribute to the relationships Blain had with her family, her mother, partner and daughter in particular, and her dear friend Rosie Scott with whom she shared both her love of language, and tragically, her fate of being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. The writing is, as Blain's fiction writing also was, exquisite in its simplicity and effectiveness. The writer's voice rings strong and true across each page, and upon reaching the final page I felt both enriched by the experience of reading Georgia Blain's final work but also terribly sad at the loss of this wonderful writer.

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