The french philosopher simone weil reported that evidence of compassion was to be found in one question: quel est ton tourment?, which results in english as exactly what are you dealing with? the narrator of sigrid nunezs mournful, deftly funny novel notes that in french the fantastic question seems very various, but cannot elaborate on which is lost in interpretation or at the very least maybe not clearly.

This is a novel preoccupied because of the slightness of language: exactly how words can trick united states into believing in one vision of the world when our realities tend to be stubbornly complex. the truly amazing question, which provides exactly what are you going right through its title, fundamentally applies to a friendship between two older, unnamed ladies. one sits at hospital bedside of the woman old college buddy, who's dying of disease, fading out of a life marked by middling unhappiness. her daughter is estranged, the woman marriage over, while the disappointments have remaining the woman questioning her identification. this woman is alone now, at the conclusion, but could she have already been happier alone, right away?

The woman buddy, the narrator, holds an unsatisfactory mirror for this concern: she's got already been steadily single for quite a while, but is aware that others will grant on their own authorization to evaluate. her personal part, that also infuses the woman professional life as a writer, is attend to various other individuals stories. going to the senior, loquacious mama of an acquaintance, she says: about my own life she had no fascination. i became solitary, i became childless: exactly what life?

Nunez creates an extraordinary program of levels in this novel. throughout, she keeps an exclusive audience with all the narrator, just who retreats after hospital visits to her airbnb, a forgettable domestic landscape with an equally forgettable hostess. but nunez additionally causes the book out into playful rooms so we tend to be treated to a hilarious and wonderful storytelling session from resident bourbon-eyed relief pet, whoever colourful tale of looking for property echoes the peoples characters pursuit of consolation. he told other tales that night he had been an actual scheherazade, that cat but it was alone we remembered each morning.

A succession of various other cameos from those who have been considerable when you look at the narrators life includes a self-important ex-partner, additionally a journalist, whom nunez brilliantly captures in the very own mid-life decrease. crucially, though he nevertheless writes publications, he's got stopped reading them. what are you going right on through suggestions this is some sort of mini-death: the hunt for truth, represented by at least wanting to see the world, has ended.

Certainly, it is a novel with several types of demise. among the layers there is criminal activity and murder because of the narrator reading and absorbing thriller stories and gruesomely recounting their bloody plots. therefore sets up an exaggerated but ambiguous ethical comparison with her very own life-or-death choice: whether or not to simply accept her friends request to help her enact assisted suicide.

In nunezs reading, weils question what are you going right through? expects an obscure solution, which must inevitably trigger a partial conversation and a continuous means of imperfect comprehension. this is simply not a book about empathy much as respect when it comes to unknowable: untold is a great word. meaning, obviously, perhaps not recounted or narrated. but in addition, excessively or way too many to state.

Its a mark of nunezs knowledge that she's created something amusing and hopeful from figures who are surveying the closing stages of life. theres a specific sort of delight, my friend said, that's open simply to young children...after a certain age, that experience that pure bliss doesnt take place, it cant occur, because you never wish just one thing more. when this fact was recognized, nunez hints at a wonderful freedom, a freedom upon which her book soars.

What are you going through, by sigrid nunez, virago, rrp16.99, 224 pages

Natalie whittle is ft weekends development editor

Join our on line book team on facebook at ft books caf