Review: The Impossible Resurrection of Grief, by Octavia Cade

Octavia Cade is not the first author to tackle the looming specter of climate change, but The Impossible Resurrection of Grief still manages to find a unique niche in that landscape. In a world of sometimes strident diatribes, Cade crafts a eulogy. This isn’t a fire and brimstone preacher demanding that you repent. It’s a friend taking your hands in their own, looking you straight in the eye and saying, “yes, I see it, too.”

The Impossible Resurrection of Grief takes place in the near future, in a time when species and ecosystems that are now critically threatened have finally succumbed. In the wake of this loss, people have begun suffering from the Grief – an all-consuming fixation on what the world has lost, which always ends in suicide. When our narrator, Ruby, loses her best friend to the Grief, she is drawn into a web of secrets and manipulations that pulls her from Australia to Tasmania and New Zealand.

I found the first chapter a little confusing, as it is not told in chronological order, but the novella quickly settles into a straightforward narrative. The suspense comes from the mystery that Ruby must unravel, and from her own ruminations. This is a very internal book, and a lot of the forward momentum comes from Ruby’s growing understanding of the Grief, of herself, and of humanity as a whole. What does it say about us, that we can watch so many species die, yet do nothing?

Cade describes Ruby’s questions and her suffering beautifully, not to mention the detailed observations of the world around her. I think that is part of why the book works – the themes are dark, but the writing is so gorgeous that it provides something of a protective balm. It makes the pain bearable.

The ending feels inevitable, but also somewhat incomplete. Cade carries the reader through an emotional journey, but I finished the book still unclear on exactly what the people behind the mysteries wanted from Ruby. Or perhaps I’m just not smart enough to see it. Thematically, the ending is perfect, and I can see why a book about such a weighty topic could not wrap everything up in a bow.

This is not comfortable reading. But I never felt like it was wallowing in sorrow, so much as revealing the thoughts and feelings that I normally turn away from. There is a catharsis to reading a narrative that speaks aloud the deepest fears and knowings of a bruised heart. I found this novella to be more bracing than depressing, but of course that is an individual line.

I doubt that any story could convince somebody to care about climate change, and I don’t think that was Cade’s intention. However, if you would like a book to help you sit with the sadness you already feel, I believe that The Impossible Resurrection of Grief will serve you well.