Good Reading : October 2015
is thrilling and ter rifying, and you feel your life-plan explosively and exhilaratingly expand to suddenly accommodate two people. To imagine that feeling being drained away by a disease no-one knew how to cure is beyond devastating; to have your reason for living become a death sentence is the definition of heartbreak. What makes Holding the Man so addictive is the flagrant honesty with which Tim wr ites about this experience. He wr ites with an openness achievable only by someone who had nothing to lose and who knew he was dying. I don’t know whether he should be vilified or commended for how freely he writes about his numerous infidelities. ‘He opened his mouth and out rushed the truth’, wr ites David Marr in his introduction to the newly published film tie-in of the memoir. As endlessly frustrating as Tim’s disloyalties to John are, it makes you realise how truthful and sincere Tim is when writing about his love for John too. My heart sat thickly in my mouth for the entire second half of the book after the lovers both test positive for HIV. I knew what was coming. Part of me wanted to sprint through the rest of the book, to reach the inevitable end, to be done with it; the other part urged me to slow down, to cling to the happy parts while they lasted before I ran out of pages and a hollow, sick feeling filled me up instead. The former urge took over, and I devoured the last half of the memoir in less than a day. As I finished the final page, the latter feeling settled in my stomach like a cold, smug stone. The translated phrase still hovers on the screen in front of me. Sometimes, a movie, a book, or a health scare will remind you of your approaching death like a slap around the ears. Other times it’s more like a punch in the guts. Finishing Holding the Man was like receiving a crack to the jaw from a crowbar followed by a roundhouse kick in the chest that sends you barrelling down a steep flight of concrete stairs. Books in themselves are reminders of mortality, even if they don’t deal explicitly with death, because the number of their pages is so obviously limited. As soon as you take up a novel in your hands, you’re aware of the front cover and the back; between these two barr iers is the only space the characters will be allowed to breathe. While it’s impossible to know when a person’s life will end, as you near the last chapter of a book, you can feel between your fingers the exact number of pages left before the final sentence. Somehow, you become aware that each day you live is indelibly etched with a number in black ink, just like the pages of a novel. Each night when you go to bed, that moment of blankness between falling asleep and waking is the equivalent of turning of a page.You’re steadily and unconsciously hurtling towards the end of your story, and who knows how close you are to your concluding full stop? But enough of dwelling on death. What a reminder of mortality should do, if administered correctly, is spur you into a renewed lust for living. That’s what Tim Conigrave does with Holding the Man. Tim and John’s story bristles with life and love, and this memoir’s vibrancy is only enhanced by its proximity to the promise of death. The result is a book that is equally joyous and devastating, electrifying and sexy, a story that urges you to savour each touch from a lover and every beat of your heart you have left in this calamitous, beautifully brief thing we call life. I delete the translation, shut down my computer, and I walk outside. Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave is published by Penguin, rrp $22.99. SHELF LIFE thing we call life. shut down my computer, and I walk outside. Holding the Man Timothy Conigrave is published by Penguin, rrp $22.99. GOOD READING OCTOBER 2015 17 Ryan Corr, le , as Tim Conigrave and Craig Sto as John Caleo in Neil Armfield’s film adaptation of Holding the Man, based on Conigrave’s memoir.