In late 2015, Georgia Blain was diagnosed with a tumour sitting right in the language centre of her brain. Prior to this, Georgia’s only warning had been a niggling sense that her speech was slightly awry. She ignored it, and on a bright spring day, as she was mowing the lawn, she collapsed on a bed of blossoms, blood frothing at her mouth.
Waking up to find herself in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital, she tries to answer questions, but is unable to speak. After the shock of a bleak prognosis and a long, gruelling treatment schedule, she immediately turns to writing to rebuild her language and herself.
At the same time, her mother, Anne Deveson, moves into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s; weeks earlier, her best friend and mentor had been diagnosed with the same brain tumour. All three of them are writers, with language at the core of their being.
The Museum of Words is a meditation on writing, reading, first words and last words, picking up thread after thread as it builds on each story to become a much larger narrative. This idiosyncratic and deeply personal memoir is a writer’s take on how language shapes us, and how often we take it for granted — until we are in danger of losing it.
‘A fine short memoir that looks both inward and outward to tell a patchwork story of four women and their shifting relationships with one another and with words, their medium for living … She does not try to make sense of what was happening and does not rail against fate’s cruelty. She does not argue for voluntary euthanasia and even notes that her mother, once an advocate, went quiet on the subject after she became ill. Blain simply continues to write, her voice faltering only occasionally, until her final sentence.’
Susan Wyndham, Weekend Australian
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‘An incredible gift for those who loved Blain, those who valued her writing, and those who are still to discover this great writer … We are so lucky to be able to read it.’
Stella Charls, Readings
‘[Museum of Words] is not a memoir of dying, although it is about illness and treatment, and the impossibility of saying goodbye. It moves between its subjects, using the writer’s illness reflexively, leading into description of the things most important to her … [A] fine book that looks chaos directly in the face and attempts to record it.’
Tegan Bennett Daylight, Sydney Morning Herald
‘A powerful meditation on the power of language and writing … wise, tender, and heart-rending.’
Nicole Abadee, AFR
‘The true story of Blain the woman: early 50s, loving and beloved and dealing with loss all around her, who understands both her art and her very life are slipping away.’
The Saturday Paper
‘Blain seamlessly reveals joys and complications of her family, and manages to provide some keen insights into the art and graft of telling stories … Museum is calm and tender and wise and brisk.’
‘The Museum of Words is a very powerful, private essay on the end of being, invested with an unshakeable sense of presence, of fellow-humanity. Also with true verbal beauty and lyrical evocativeness. With her last book Blain proves that one can indeed, and most significantly, “go gently into that good night”.’
Mika Provata-Carlone, Bookanista
‘The paradox of writing about life while trying to live it, a perspective that perhaps comes only from looking back from the end.’
Katy Hershberger, Shelf Awareness