TOWARDS the end of Final Draft, Rosemary Friedman writes: “The year I was born . . . saw the New York Stock Exchange crash. Had you mentioned the fact that in my lifetime you could shop for food, buy your house, talk to, and see, friends and relatives on the far side of the world [and] diagnose and treat your ailments through the internet, you would have been looked at askance.”
Part of the power of this little book — 35 mini-essays on myriad aspects of being human — lies in the fact that Friedman’s life has spanned so much change. As she approaches her 90th year, she distils her vast experience into a charming and insightful series of pensées.
Friedman’s work has always defied easy categorisation. The author of more than 20 books, she is a successful playwright and children’s writer. She has written for TV and radio, besides being a cordon-bleu cook. Final Draft is, she says, her final book, and is led by the spirit of Montaigne.
Friedman reminds us that he adopted the term “essay” because “essayer” means “to try”. In this book, we find Friedman — always guided by an extraordinary range of influences, from the Bible through to Nietzsche and Maurice Chevalier — trying to say the unsayable with simplicity and grace.
Final Draft, then, collects Friedman’s wisdom on subjects big and small, from the abstract, such as “Truth” and “Love” through to “Grandmother’s Chicken Soup” and “Going to the Doctor”. Her skill is to weave these disparate vignettes into a deeper meditation on being human.
Most of the essays run to no more than 1000 words. It is testimony to Friedman’s ability that she says anything at all with such brevity. Admittedly, there are essays — especially those based on Friedman’s bewilderment at the internet’s impact on our lives — which run close to Victor Meldrew “I don’t believe it!” territory. But this is a quibble.
There are moments in this book, especially when Friedman writes about losing her husband, grief, and loneliness, which are staggering in their simplicity. When she writes “There is no manual to tell us how grief must be managed,” she is utterly believable. This is a woman who has lived, and continues to live, through her curiosity and courage.
Final Draft is, by turns, gentle, amusing, and unexpectedly affecting. At the risk of damning with faint praise, it is the kind of book that would make a perfect gift. For someone you love. For a friend. For yourself.
The Revd Rachel Mann is Priest-in-Charge of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and Resident Poet and Minor Canon at Manchester Cathedral.
Final Draft: Reflections on life
Peter Owen Publishers £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50