Book review – 60 Postcards by Rachael Chadwick

60 Postcards book coverOverwhelming gusto was not an emotion I expected to encounter in a book that is essentially about bereavement, yet that’s what I found.

The book opens with Rachael Chadwick and her friends heading off to celebrate an important birthday in Paris and enthusing over every little detail, which I admit, I initially found a bit much. I stuck with it though, as I hope you will, and soon understood I was reading a book written straight from the heart.

Rachael is disarmingly honest throughout, taking us through the distress and grief of losing her mum to a shockingly aggressive cancer, and all the way to Paris and back, on a mission of remembrance that was to have an extraordinarily far reaching and life affirming impact.Rachael can’t recall her mum Vivienne ever having been ill before. “I couldn’t even remember a time in the past 20 years when she had needed a doctor’s appointment.” When mystery stomach pains turned out not to be gallstones, as suspected, a cancer diagnosis soon follows. Rachael, who describes herself as a “rom-com watching, fairytale ending believer”, shares each stage of the revelations unflinchingly (though as the reader, I found myself flinching a lot). The cancer is inoperable, and in the end the family only have 16 days to say their farewells before she’s gone.

Rachael’s writing captures the raw, bewildering grief of this time in a way that makes it utterly relatable. Even when things are at their bleakest, she manages to gently poke fun at herself, and show her love for her family and friends. When she returns to work, she shares a section about the reactions she experiences from others in response to the news, and it’s unfailing in its accuracy. As she points out herself, there’s no fail-safe guide to help us get this right, and she gently lampoons everyone from “The Avoiders” to “The Tilters.”

As the months pass, landmarks approach like icebergs on the horizon, most notably, Rachael’s younger sister Hannah’s wedding. But one looms above all others, Vivienne’s 60th birthday.

This is where the idea of 60 Postcards comes in. “Rather than sending postcards home of my experiences, I was going to use them in the opposite way – to tell the people in the city I was visiting exactly why I was there. This was the perfect way to leave my message about Mum.”

And that’s exactly what she does, with a little help from her friends, and a few amusing mishaps (plus lots of bread, crepes and wine) along the way.

On the back of each of the 60 Postcards is a message explaining that Rachael is visiting in memory of her mum, and inviting people who find the cards to get in touch. When she boards the Eurostar to travel home, Rachael has no idea whether anyone will find the cards, and if they do, whether they will respond.

I found myself swept along by Rachael’s boundless energy, and cheering her on along every step of her adventure.

I don’t want to spoil the ending here, so will merely assure you that this was just the beginning – and what happens next, and after that, and after that – reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten. People are generally glad to be part of something, so in reaching out, you will most likely receive a positive response.

More than that though, if you have courage, and hope, as Rachael does, you will likely receive the same in return.

Now, isn’t that a good, life-affirming, heart-warming lesson to learn?

60 Postcards by Rachael Chadwick is published by Simon & Schuster Ltd and is available to buy from Amazon. The book began life as Rachael’s blog

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