Genre: Contemporary Published: St. Martins Press, May 2023
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
“Grief is just love looking for a place to settle.”
The Collected Regrets of Clover left me incredibly conflicted on how to rate it. From a reviewers perspective, it’s such an easy recommendation, as I can picture the exact audience that would eat this book up. If Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets The Midnight Library sounds like something you would love; you’re going to adore Clover. From a personal perspective, I hated both those comps, and Clovers story was one of my biggest disappointments of 2023.
I was originally drawn to this story, for its unique-sounding premise: a contemporary novel, told from the perspective of a bit of an eccentric young woman, who works as a death-doula: the equivalent of a midwife for the dying. Through her work she meets a variety of people (dying and not) who help her grow and heal past her own grief and regrets.
This had the potential to be a contemporary(-romance) that was not only uplifting and cute, but also offered some depth and emotional balance as well. It certainly succeeds on the former half of that expectation, but not so much the latter…
If you’re looking for a cute romance, featuring a bit of a socially inapt female protagonist leaving her comfort zone and exploring friendship and love: this is it. As for the emotional depth; there are some good passages. Cliché mostly, but only cliché because they are true. They are unfortunately few and far between.
I’ve seen plenty reviewers praise this for being “sweet, but not too saccharine”. I disagree: this was too saccharine for my liking. See also the Ugly-section…
I also really disliked the character of Clover, who’s presented to be a wise, compassionate and selfless person, especially as she offers words of comfort within her job. Outside of her job however, she is shown to be an immature, naive, selfish, unprofessional and a complete hypocrite. She intrudes into people’s lives in ways that made it impossible for me to root for her as a protagonist. Snooping into clients personal affairs without consent, romancing the son of a client, not to mention actually spying on her neighbours with binoculars and it being played off as a “cute quirk”. Yikes… Worse than being an unlikable character, she’s an unbelievable one, with an equally unbelievable profession…
The Ugly (A.k.a. why it personally rubbed me the wrong way):
As some of you may know, I’m a medical doctor, working as a resident in Oncology and Palliative Care for the past year. On many occasions, I’ve felt like somewhat of a “death doula” myself… I’ve been at more than my fair-share of death-beds, both professionally and personally, and it’s because of that that I HATE the romanticization of death in media. The perceived wisdom and grace that’s put onto dying people, the misplaced “battle metaphor” of illness, the sanitized death-scenes depicting perfectly made-up people “drifting off into sleep”. It’s a slap in the face to what the real experience is like.
I’m going to quote one of my favourite passages from The Collected Regrets of Clover:
“Unfortunately, death isn’t always the peaceful slipping away that movies depict it to be – often it’s prolonged and very unpleasant. The sensory chaos of bodily functions shutting down or going awry. The gasping. The look of panic as people cling desperately to their final moments. Sometimes family members turn away or run out of the room to spare themselves from having such a confronting scene seared into their brains as the final memory of their loved ones. That’s why it’s so important to have someone like me there. Someone who won’t look away, no matter how harrowing it gets.”
Ironically, it perpetuates those exact stereotypes it critiques here. Clovers job of Death Doula is presented to consist of roadtrips, fulfilling final wishes, and “doing fun things” with terminally ill people and their families. I hate to break it to the fans of this book, but this isn’t the reality of palliative care. It’s beautiful, it’s fulfilling and there are unexpected moments of joy to be had, but it’s also incredibly taxing and far from easy. I wish Mikki Brammer had gone into those aspects as well, rather than serving up a glazed and sugarcoated imitation of the truth instead.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC on exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.