The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
How do you carry on, when you lose someone you love? Big Billy Brennan has suffered the greatest tragedy a parent can know – he has just lost his son. His family is reeling, and his marriage is a partnership in name alone. Billy is also obese: at nearly 30 stone, he can barely walk down the street without breaking a sweat. In his small Irish town, he can’t escape his notoriety.
So Billy decides to take on the two things weighing him down – his grief, and his fat – and in doing so he’s going to try to stop the terrible plague of suicide that is haunting the youth of Ireland.
Tackling the subject of suicide sensitively is so important, and Rohan does this incredibly well. Michael Brennan is just present enough and we don’t get fed simple reasons for his suicide. Instead, he seemed happy. About to apply to uni, star of the local football team and popular. His parents don’t understand what could possibly have made their eldest son go to such lengths, and Billy in particular blames himself.
The weight issue was tended to take over, though it was linked with Michael’s death. Billy is a mess physically and emotionally, blaming his own father for showing little interest in him. When he suddenly decides that he’s going to lose half his body weight for charity, it seems a little out of character but I went with it. His struggle to give up the vast portions of fast food, and the scenes where he struggled to walk a few laps of his own house, were poignant and I felt disappointed in Billy when he fell victim to temptation. I could feel the weight of the pressure that he piled upon himself by publicising his sponsored weight loss so widely.
I struggled a little more with the Brennans as a family. Billy seems to be set apart from everyone: his wife, his kids, his sister, his parents. As much as I appreciated the challenge of the weight loss more when he was up against it, I wondered at his wife’s refusal to help. She carried on stocking the fridge with chocolate and unhealthy snacks, barely commented when Billy moved out of their bedroom into their dead son’s (or when he moved back in). Tricia herself became little more than a foil to Billy’s plans and her constant criticism began to irritate me. They never had proper rows either, just little sniping comments that began to wear me out as much as they did Billy.
Although the subject was treated sensitively, I felt that it was too tentatively explored and I wanted more impact. All in all, this was a decent story but not perfect and the ending fizzled out with no concrete conclusion.
I received a copy of this novel from Readers First in exchange for an impartial review.