Margaret Aldiss had suffered from a minor heart complaint for several years, but it was a condition that did not seem to threaten or greatly impair her enjoyment of life. Tragically, however, this problem masked the onslaught of something far more serious. In November 1997, three months after pancreatic cancer had been diagnosed, Margaret died in the arms of her husband at their home in Oxford. Based on journals they both kept, When the Feast is Finished is Brian Aldiss’s almost unbearably moving account of those last weeks of Margaret’s life. From the days when relatively innocent concerns for his wife’s health became gradually more sunstantial, to the stark truth of the diagnosis and beyond, Aldiss draws a frank, harrowing portrait of how rapidly her illness progressed, and of the way he, his family, his friends and Margaret reacted to the approach of the inevitable. Stoical, uncomplaining and brave, she regularly expressed more concern for her husband’s state of health than her own. The directness of Aldiss’s reflections is devastating. As Margaret’s condition deteriorates and more is demanded of him in her day-to-day care, his extraordinarily powerful love becomes a sustaining force. Amid the awful routine of terminal illness, they find time for some kind of normality: anxiety over her step-daughter’s pregnancy, renovations to the house, watching Princess Diana’s funeral on television, Aldiss working on his garden and autobiography. There is thanks for the thirty years of joy and happiness they shared, the children of whom they are so proud, and the chance to say goodbye. But there is the harshest of reminders, each and every hour, of what is to come.
FIRST EDITION: Little, Brown, 1999