Cressida Connolly

The death of laughter

If you were stranded on a desert island, Ruth Leon would be the perfect companion.

If you were stranded on a desert island, Ruth Leon would be the perfect companion. She is plucky, resourceful, funny, bright and indomitable: you can see just why the late theatre critic Sheridan Morley fell in love with her. And indeed he did find himself alone with her, on the mental-health equivalent of a desert island, when an otherwise fairly mild stroke seemed to ossify his pre-existing depression. For four years he spent as many hours a day as he could asleep. When he was awake he was either weeping or complaining. I lost count of how many times the word ‘whining’ appears in this book.

By her own admission, Leon does not carry ‘the Mother Teresa gene’. While she fought tooth and nail to obtain the best medical care for her husband and valiantly wrote his articles for him, so he would not lose his work, she also found him exasperating. Looking after him left her exhausted and resentful. She hopes that this account of her husband’s last years and her part in them may be of use to other reluctant carers.

Running alongside her husband’s ills and her cavils are alternate chapters which amount to a sort of autobiography, or at least an autobiography of her friendship, affair with and ultimate marriage to Morley. They met when he was still an undergraduate at Cambridge, were friends throughout their first marriages and only married in their early fifties. Before that, Leon had been living in New York, where she worked as a theatre critic and writer on cabaret and the Great American Songbook. One day, some 30 years after they first met, Morley turned up and announced he’d always loved her and now wanted to marry. She tried to stave him off, but he seems to have been an adept at getting what he wanted. 

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