Is There Anything You Want? by Margaret Forster - review by Pamela Norris

Pamela Norris

The Will to Survive

Is There Anything You Want?


Chatto & Windus 244pp £16.99

'When all this is over, are you going to write about it?' This was the question posed to Margaret Forster by her sister-in-law, a few weeks before she died from cancer. Forster's first response was to say no, and she reminded Marion that her books usually began with thinking through a problem. 'Isn't dying a problem?' was the tart reply. Some time later, Forster did write most movingly about Marion's final months in a memoir, Precious Lives, in which she debated with great lucidity and sensitivity such difficult issues as euthanasia, assisted suicide, and how best to care for the terminally ill.

In Forster's new novel, Is There Anything You Want?, she turns again to the challenges cancer poses for both sufferer and carer. This time, however, she highlights a dilemma which is generally either ignored, or treated with determined optimism: how it feels to survive breast cancer. The story begins with a description of patients and staff at a clinic at St Mary's, a busy NHS hospital in a small northern town, and then moves out to consider their relationships within the wider community of family and neighbours.

There is no common factor that links the cancer sufferers, except the fear

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