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Helen Dunmore’s indomitable spirit

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LYING on an operating table in a “workaday city hospital”, the late author Helen Dunmore noticed a waterfall outside the theatre. The staff seemed quite unbothered by this therapeutic installation. They strolled casually towards the patient with “their gowns, caps and pale gumboots while I watched the cataract tumble behind them”. Dunmore, whose novels and poems always flow and brim with images of seas, rivers and pools, felt a sudden “amazement and joy” at the nearness of her favourite element. That waterfall cascades into the opening poem of her final collection, “Inside the Wave”. On January 30th, the volume beat its rivals from other literary genres to win Britain’s Costa Book of the Year award. 

Dunmore’s posthumous honour came seven months after her death from cancer, aged 64, in June 2017. Her waterfall poem, “Counting Backward”, ruefully reflects that the medics of Bristol (the city in the west of England where she lived for four decades) had come to take their indoor cataract for granted. Human beings…Continue reading

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