Damian Kelleher is well-known on the children’s books scene. He was book editor in the glory days of Young Telegraph and T2, frequently chairs children’s book events and is seen at all the best publisher parties. For that reason, if I had not genuinely liked this book I would probably have kept my thoughts to myself.
The first thing to be said about it – this is Kelleher’s debut as full-length novelist, as far as I’m aware – is that it is extremely fluently written, in an unpretentious, unshowy first-person continuous present. The second thing to say is that the subject matter – a mother of two boys dying of cancer – is not one I exactly relax into.
There is a puff on the back jacket from Jacqueline Wilson in which she uses the phrase “searingly sad at times”, so I was braced for a hard read. As it happens, the mother is only a peripheral part of the story. The focus remains throughout on Luke and his brother Jesse, and the uncle who arrives to take care of them.
Conicidentally, as soon as I had finished Life, Interrupted I picked up The Paris Review Interviews vol. 3 and read the interview with Ralph Ellison, in which the interviewers remark at one point, “A common criticism of first novels is that the central incident is either omitted or weak.” It’s possible that some may feel in this book Kelleher does not give the central incident sufficient weight or emotional cache, relegating it, as the title of the book implies, to an interruption.
It seems to me that that would be to grossly misunderstand what Kelleher is trying to show here. In concentrating on an important schools football final and in optimistically acclimatising to life with their gay uncle, the boys are coming to terms in their own way with what has happened, and doing what boys often do differently from girls when life is interrupted by major events – moving on more quickly and with less overt emotion.