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Book review: When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis – By Helen Bailey

By Nina Steele 

I never expected a book on grief to be so entertaining. Helen Bailey describes humour as one of her coping mechanisms and this is reflected throughout the book. Every so often, I had to remind myself that this very talented writer is no longer with us. Like a lot of people who didn’t know who she was until she went missing and the circumstances of her death were revealed, I wanted to know more about her life. Although the book deals primarily with the death of her husband and how she coped with it, it is also a journey into her life as a whole, and moves effortlessly between the past and the present. A couple of things worth noting about Helen Bailey from the outset is that she was childless and also that her husband had two children from a previous marriage.

Helen’s husband John Sinfield drowned while on holiday in Barbados on February 27, 2011. As we now know, his death would change the course of her life in a tragic way. For, it is while trying to rebuild her life after her husband’s death that she met the man who will later end up murdering her. What becomes quickly apparent when reading Helen’s book is the omnipresence of death. In fact, death seems to have followed her throughout her life. From the woman she randomly met on a train when she was 17, who happened to be a widow and threatened to kill herself in full view of all the other passengers, to her best friend Karen dying from Cancer aged 33, and then there were the many other friends, most of whom also died of cancer in the prime of their lives. If ever there was a book to remind us never to take our lives for granted, this is it.

Notwithstanding the fact the book is about grief, the use of humour makes it quite palatable in a way that it may not have been. On many occasions, I found myself bursting out laughing. One typical example is when Helen said this about the death of one of her friend’s father when she was younger: “One evening, a long time ago, in a land far away (Northumberland), my best friend’s father jumped up to answer the phone and died of a heart attack”. What a way to describe someone’s sudden death!

About seven months into her grief, Helen finally starts making a breakthrough, which both terrifies and elates her. She was elated because for the first time, she was managing a few days without crying, yet she was also terrified because that meant she was starting to move on with her life. That to her felt like a betrayal of her husband’s memory. Now that we know how she died, something she said then, make one shiver because of how prescient it now sounds. She said this: “I get tiny glimpses into a life without JS (Her husband’s initials) that might include the possibility of new experiences and new opportunities. For a brief time I feel elated, almost dizzy with hope, then elation turns to fear, not just fear of the future, but fear of losing my grip on JS any further , and I scurry back to my own little world, which doesn’t feel safe, but safer than what might be waiting for me out there”.

Understandably, the whole mood of the book changes when Ian Stewart, the fiancé who ended up murdering her, enters the picture. That we now know he was a fraud all along, makes her description of him in glorious terms very painful to read. What a dreadful turn of events, was all I could think of.

It is so desperately sad that she had to meet such a gruesome end. However, if like me you believe there is life after death, then I hope she is now reunited with the husband she so loved and who loved her in return.

Helen’s book is on sale on Amazon

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