Review published on April 16, 2017.
Rachel Khong’s debut is a quietly beautiful novel, focusing on a touching but unsentimental portrayal of a man who is developing dementia and the effects it has on his family. The main character and narrator, Ruth, finds herself drifting back to her parents’ home after a break-up, promising to help with caring for her father, who has Alzheimer’s.
Despite its emotive subject matter, Goodbye, Vitamin is not only entertaining but occasionally downright funny, particularly at the beginning. Ruth is a gloriously irreverent narrator, which prevents the novel from becoming unbearably downbeat even as her father’s condition worsens. I particularly enjoyed the subplot in which her father, due to his increasing forgetfulness, is let go from his job as a lecturer, before being lovingly duped into teaching his class in a variety of incongruous off-campus settings. It’s one the many sources of palpable affection in this lovely book.
Khong’s choices in structuring the novel help to seamlessly interweave past and present, allowing Ruth to reflect on her family’s history while observing their present. Cleverly, Khong reveals more of Ruth’s father slowly, forcing us to reconcile the image of a deeply but realistically flawed man with the more docile version of himself that Alzheimer’s disease produces.
Goodbye, Vitamin is subtly sweet, offering its reader plenty in the way of emotional content as well as some gentle laughs. Khong presents us with authentically realised relationships and characters who, while not idealised, are easy to root for. The most winning factor is Ruth herself; she’s by turns bewildered, strong, devastated and witty, and her voice rings true throughout. I missed her when I turned the final page. I’ll definitely be looking out for whatever Khong writes next.
Katy Goodwin-Bates 4/4
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Scribner UK 9781471147234 hbk Jun 2017
WWAR: Our Voices take the load off the editorial team this issue