A Review of Finding Lily: A Memoir

I stumbled across Finding Lily in my local library, en route to another book. The title made me curious and I liked that it was by a Canadian author. However, truth be told, the real reason I picked it up is because it is only 189 pages and I was short a few titles for my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge of 150 books.

Finding Lily isn’t an award-winning book. It didn’t make a big splash anywhere. Some reviewers panned it. But I loved it. I agree with author David Gilmour who wrote, “Finding Lily is simply the story of a bad thing that happened to a decent man–and what he did in the aftermath. I wish more writers wrote like Mr. Clewes.”

Here’s my review of Finding Lily using Shelley Wilson’s book share template. Other book reviews are available in the Perspectives category of Profound Journey.

First Line of the Book

“It wasn’t my plan to write a book about what happened after my wife took her own life a few days after missing my fiftieth birthday.”

Recruit Fans by Adding the Book Blurb

“Life goes on,” offered his friends and family. But to adman Richard Clewes–caught emotionally unawares in the brutal and raw aftermath of his wife’s suicide, finding a new way to live meant leaving the safe confines of a familiar life and embarking on a physical–and a spiritual–quest. Thus began a six-month round-the-world sojourn–armed with not much else but his grief, his confusion, and a sketchpad.

Part travelogue, part contemplation, Finding Lily is a rich visual record in words and illustrated postcards (mailed by the author to himself along the way) chronicling the events and the people who guide his journey across four continents and diverse cultures. From a Rastafarian tennis pro to a free- spirited helicopter pilot stranded on a New Zealand beach, to a Balinese Hindu priest and a Russian Afghanistan war vet turned LA cabbie, the narrrative is at once humorous and deeply felt, artistic yet immediately accessible.

From the blackest depths of grief to a redemptive hope and joy, Finding Lily is a compelling portrait of the ultimate buoyancy of the human spirit.

No one can tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were.

Alan Watts

Introduce the Main Character Using Only Three Words

bewildered, creative, authentic

Delightful Design (Add the Cover Image)

Finding Lily: A Memoir book cover
The cover art is by the author. Even better, each chapter begins with an illustrated postcard drawn by the author and accompanied by a relevant quotation. I’ve shared a couple of the quotations in the margins of this post.

Audience Appeal

Some people find any mention of death morbid. Those people probably won’t want to read this book, which is unfortunate. It’s a hopeful book, an uplifting one. If you are interested in exploring life’s big questions, I think you might enjoy Finding Lily.

Your Favourite Line or Scene

I had many favourites in this slim volume. I admire Richard Clewes for his:

honesty in describing his experience

“Erin’s death removed me from the version of life we made, not life itself, but still, I don’t think I am quite awake. It’s as if I am in the ultimate witness protection program. For my own good, my old identity is gone, but a new one hasn’t been worked out yet. I’m a perverse amnesiac–the self I do remember, I don’t want back.” (p.46)

The days are stacked against what we think we are: it is nearly impossible to surprise ourselves.

Jim Harrison

sense of humour

“Do I have to be diligent every waking minute? Drawing and writing little, tiny thoughts in my diary? Maybe I can doze in every country I go. And after, I’ll come up with a witty book, describing what I will come to know well, namely the things that can be done in bed apart from sex or sleep. I must do this before Bill Bryson does.” (p.96)

vivid descriptions

“Between the revolving door and the cab are two heavyset Latinos, with smooth black hair and paint-spattered white shirts and trousers. They pull slowly on cigarettes. Their fingers are cupped like seashells, arranged for maximum surreptitious inhalation. They turn their heads away from the smoke plumes as if they had nothing to do with it.” (pp. 179-180)

 

18 comments

  1. I am in, Karen, now I need to find this book and read it. I will look it up after getting through “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen and Own King, of course. I was given Sleeping Beauties for Christmas and have just started it. Richard Clews will have to wait a bit though since this tome is 702 pages long! Yes, another Under The Domes level of a volume.
    Your book review intrigues me in two ways. One, I like memoirs and this one sounds good and two, learning how the author processes how to deal with his wife’s suicide is something I would like to hear about. Call me morbid if you like but to me it is fascinating.

    1. It’s a good one to put on your list after Sleeping Beauties, Susan. And after reading a 702 page book, Finding Lily will be a breeze. My guess is that you will enjoy it for both of the reasons you mention, plus you will enjoy it because of the way the author uses drawing to return himself to life.When you do read it, please come back to this post and let us know what you think.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation Karen. I will absolutely come back to this post and let you know what I think after reading it. LOL, you are right that after Sleeping Beauties this book will be a breeze and hey, there is the bonus of adding a quick book to my Goodreads Challenge too! 😉

    1. Terrific, Fran. As with Susan and Donna, I hope you’ll share your thoughts here once you’ve had a chance to read it. I found it an especially good book for this time in our lives. With your travel history, I suspect you’d get even more out of it than I did.

    1. Well that’s because you’re the Glasgow gallivanter. Gallivanters can’t possibly read as much as we stay-at-homers and I, for one, am glad that’s true. I have 532 books on my to-be-read list and don’t need any more right now. But I do routinely benefit from your gallivanting!

  2. I imagine it’s a book you might enjoy, Janis – if only because its brevity would keep you living life and exploring your passionettes! Also, I wonder what you would make of Richard’s need to sketch everything he sees and the way he feels this brings him back to his life. I wonder if there are parallels to your enthusiasm for photography.

  3. Nice review, Karen. I”m surprised people would not pick up a book that mentions death, which is such a big part of life! I”m definitely not skipping those instances in my memoir. 🙂 I think travel is such an eye-opening and soul-searching “solution” to dramatic events like the one in “Finding Lily”. The author seems to have a way with words – I enjoyed his sense of humor and descriptions you pointed out – and I like the plot of the story. You have me curious now as to who Lily is…

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. Maybe you’ll seek out this book – it’s a quick read – if I tell you that Lily isn’t a who, it’s a what. The plot thickens 🙂
      I’m curiouser and curiouser about your memoir. How it’s going?

      1. Still only finished the first draft. Life got in the way again. Not other work or travel this time, but taking care of the in-laws back east in New England. A full-time commitment these weeks.

        1. Oops, sorry. I’d known that from your last post, but forgotten.
          Manuscripts need a cooling off period anyway, Liesbet. When you’re able to return, I bet that you’ll make good progress, perhaps even informed by the experiences and feelings you are having caring for your in-laws.
          Take care.

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