Title: Lily Harford’s Last Request
Author: Joanna Buckley
Published: February 2nd 2022
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lily Harford is nearing the end of her once joyful life – and for her, it can’t come soon enough. Who will have the courage, kindness and love to grant her last request? A compassionate and heartfelt story for readers of Jodi Picoult, Tricia Stringer and Fiona Lowe.
Knowing she is sliding into dementia, Lily Harford is ready to give up her life … but can she persuade someone to commit the illegal act of taking it from her?
Lily has lived a joyful, independent life in a seaside town in Queensland, running her own business and raising a daughter as a single mother at a time when few women did so. Now health and circumstance have pushed her into a nursing home, and her memory is failing, although events of the past remain fresh. Like pulling back the layers of a Russian doll, Lily recalls the former selves – mother, professional woman, lover, daughter – who still exist inside her.
Lily’s daughter, Pauline, has been pushed to her limits by her demanding job, as well as the needs of her mother, husband, daughter and grandchildren. And now her mother is begging to die. Nurse aide Donna, still recovering from a dysfunctional childhood and the demise of her marriage, finds comfort in Lily’s kindness and down to earth wisdom. As Lily fades, she asks Donna, too, to help her end her life.
A thought-provoking, vivid and moving exploration of how we value a life well lived, and the decisions we make when that life is coming to an end.
Mother of three and counsellor Joanna Buckley presents an emotional, stirring and eloquent tribute to the right to choose how we leave this earth in her debut novel. Lily Harford’s Last Request is a conflicting, heartbreaking and prevailing read for those who appreciate divisive stories.
Introducing title character Lily Harford, Joanna Buckley’s first novel is a sensitive, considerate and brave tale that follows an older protagonist as she battles dementia. As Lily makes some final arrangements in an effort to relieve her pain for good, she knows this process is highly illegal. As Lily reflects on a life well lived, we learn that this once independent woman ran a successful business alongside her role as a single mother. This was a tough time to be a sole parent, as in Lily’s time this was not common place. But now Lily faces a new battle, she cannot continue to let the ails of her condition ravage her body. As Lily campaigns to put an end to her life, her daughter Pauline faces her own demons. With a stressful job, a marriage under strain and the needs of her children to consider, Pauline doesn’t know where to turn to next. As Pauline faces the heart wrenching realisation that her mother wishes to depart this world, she must make the right decision. The last voice in this story is a nurse who tends to Lily’s care. Donna has her own family trauma and marriage breakdown issues, but Lily provides Donna with a sense of solace. When Lily asks Donna to help her end her life, Donna is at a loss. Will Donna or Pauline help Lily?
A topical, vital and up-to-the minute read, Lily Harford’s Last Request is a contemporary fiction submission from Melbourne based author Joanna Buckley. A moving, fragile, responsive and knowing composition, I was moved by the emotional themes raised in this story. However, Joanna Buckley’s novel hit a little too close to home in regards to the loss of my grandmother, who suffered in the same way as the title character of this tale. Therefore, I would issue a caution for those approaching Lily Harford’s Last Request to be mindful of their own experiences of dementia or other similar medical conditions.
Joanna Buckley immediately sets an emotional tone for her novel in the early sequences of this book. I was plunged into Lily’s fading body, her sense of helplessness, despair, her internal struggles and her big battle to end her life. Lily Harford’s Last Request was a thought provoking, expressive and poignant read from cover to cover. I think the author was quite brave in her efforts to begin a conversation around assisted dying and the right to decide when you can end your life. This is incredibly difficult and debatable terrain, but Buckley does a good job of critically integrating all the possibilities.
Title character Lily has a very interesting and colourful history. I liked how Joanna Buckley introduced the audience to various key moments in Lily’s past. It is through these memory flashbacks and keynote moments that we learn who the real Lily is, away from the looming dark shadow of her illness. We also uncover Lily’s relationships, her decisions and her family life. Lily’s daughter Pauline does take up a significant portion of the novel and although I could sympathise with the stress she deals with, I did find it hard to click to Pauline as a character. I felt the same way with Donna, Lily’s nurse aide. Buckley’s narration floats in and out of these three women in fragmented direction as the sense of urgency in relation to Lily’s demands to end her life reach full crescendo. The end was only a slight shock, as I think I could almost guess how this emotive story was going to conclude.
A novel that crosses some contentious terrain and puts a very human spin on a pressing predicament in our current day existence, Lily Harford’s Last Request is a moving debut.
Lily Harford’s Last Request by Joanna Buckley was published on 2nd February 2022 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.