Book Review: The Heavens Are All Blue

Dr Finbar Lennon & Dr Kate McGarry

Hachette €16.99

Dr Kate McGarry was a very highly-regarded consultant physician in Navan Hospital and devoted her out-of-hours time performing Herculean work for the Irish Heart Foundation. She consistently fought the powers that be who attempted to downgrade Navan hospital for decades. Her focus was always on her patients and she was a force of nature. When she discovered she had cancer of an unknown source, and therefore very tricky to treat, Kate the doctor became Kate the patient and she decided to keep a journal. She asked her husband, Dr Finbar Lennon, retired surgeon in the Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, if he would finish the book for her after she died and The Heavens Are All Blue is the result.

This is a beautifully-evoked memoir of love and loss, of a marriage that spanned decades and a love prior to the marriage that spanned another decade; they had been in each other’s lives since their early student days in 1966. And it is remarkable that Finbar Lennon can write with such finesse. The reader ends up hoping that this debut will not be the author’s only book.

It struck me that there is no self-pity in this story. When Kate was diagnosed she sought out the best care she could find and the fight was on. Although chemotherapy  bought her some extra time, it had horrendous side-effects, the cure being worse than the illness, she would remark. Through it all, Finbar was by her side and if he had hoped she’d begin to take it easy, he must have been disappointed. Kate worked with her hospital and private patients up to the very end, as well fulfilling all sorts of commitments for the Heart Foundation. She was a trooper and they, as a couple, were very much in love.  

It’s a look back at the high points in Kate and Finbar’s lives together, as well as at the many setbacks in the times leading up to her death. And the entire book is shot through with a latent admiration for Kate, with a shared love for their garden, which helped them both to cope, with an appreciation for their children and the friends, colleagues and neighbours who rallied round the family. There is also a hunger in this memoir for some kind of peaceable spirituality.

Finbar Lennon has been dabbling in poetry all his life. The title of the book is a line from one of his poems. Even so, the breadth and depth of his penmanship in this, his first book, is staggering. There’s a humility to it, too, despite the author’s professional standing and long medical career. The Heavens Are All Blue is a quiet, reflective, sometimes funny, always engaging testament of love. It is exquisite.

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