Book review: The Iceberg by Marion Coutts

‘…we continue in the same way as before but in parenthesis.’


Marion Coutts documents the process of her living and her husband’s dying throughout a two year period. Her husband, art critic Tom Lubbock, is diagnosed with a brain tumour that rests on the part of the brain that controls speech and language. Eventually, words will disappear from Tom’s mind, communication between husband and wife will take new pathways and force boundaries within its limits, while Marion will create a beautiful way to express herself in her literary project.

‘The Iceberg’ is written with a delectable prose, lucid and fluid, matching the changing emotions and stages of living and dying exposed throughout the memoir. The provoking syntax that shifts and maneuvers throughout the narrative takes the reader on a discreet journey, making them feel honoured to be part of this family’s vulnerability and privacy.

The short bursts of poetic insight wrap death in a new layer, that although is deeply human and so intricately full of sorrow, is also instinctively distant – wrapping the end up as a method, not a meaning. This memoir depicts the struggle of a family in the face of an illness that cares for nothing by the destruction of its victim. Marion Coutts provides a texturing that depicts a unit who must grow into the future at the same rapid pace as her husband’s devouring tumour, who must find a togetherness in the brokenness.

The compelling prose is sprinkled with emails that both Marion and Tom send to their friends, updates that feel cold and brutal in their ‘matter of fact’ tone. Death is death, there is nothing else. I personally found this to be a wonderful literary technique; refreshing and modern, preventing the reader from becoming too emotionally involved. This is not fiction, there is no place for sympathy.

“There is going to be destruction: the obliteration of a person, his intellect, his experience and his agency. I am to watch it. This is my part.” 

This is your part too. My favourite aspect of ‘The Iceberg’ is that its writer does not pretend to deliver an experience you can participate in. The reader can be nothing but an observer, protected from the sadness caused by the tumour, but simultaneously victim to the necessary compassion for a fellow being who is trying their best to cope.


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