Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Publisher: Scribner UK
Publishing Date: 1st June 2017
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review!
Number of pages: 208
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year. Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.
“Goodbye, Vitamin” is very different to what I thought it’s going to be, but it doesn’t mean that it made reading worse. However, as there is such a great emphasis on Ruth’s father’s Alzheimer’s in the blurb I was prepared for the story to focus mostly on him and his medical condition – but there was also a lot about Ruth’s life and memories of the past, which – and I appreciate it – in a book about a character suffering from dementia is logical and foreseeable.
The characters are not perfect, all of them have their flaws but this make them more realistic and believable. Ruth is the main heroine in this story. She agrees to quit her job and leave her life behind to move back with her parents and look after her father while her mother is working. Ruth herself felt very normal, very casual. Overall I had a feeling that we don’t know too much about the characters, that they are mostly superficial. What I really liked when it comes to the characters is how well the author could describe the impact of Alzheimer’s on all of them – the affected and afflicted ones.
At the beginning it was hard for me to get into this story, and I am not sure why. Maybe because of the Ruth character herself, there was something in her that made me feel there is a distance between me and her, that she isn’t allowing me to get too close to her. I was also not sure about her choices and there were moments I really didn’t know what kind of point she’s making. There is not a lot happening in this story. Present is interwoven with past, we got to know about Ruth’s break – up and a little about her past but it mostly focuses on her relationship with her ex – boyfriend.
What confused me was not the fact that it was written in a diary format, this only made the reading quicker and easier, without going to deep into descriptions, but that it suddenly switched from telling Ruth’s story to keeping track of what her father was doing. It was as if the author has just recalled, wait, it is about Ruth’s dad, let’s write about him now. It felt too rushed and too forced for me, to be honest. I appreciate the idea – keeping this track is done in the same way as Ruth’s dad has written about her in a notebook he gave her to her birthday (one of the best moments in the book were the short notes Howard has written when she was a child. They are incredibly sweet and they brought smiles to my face but they also pull at the heartstrings, as they’re also such touching and they remind you of the farthest, cherished memories), but maybe it should have been done earlier? Or interwoven into the story?
Altogether, “Goodbye, Vitamin” is a melancholic story about family and how important it is to appreciate it, and every day we can spend with our closest ones. It is filled with funny and sad moments, with lovely memories that it is so nice to keep. A bitter – sweet and very sharp – observed novel about forgetting and forgiving and healing , and some of those observations may feel raw but I liked this rawness.