To cats and daughters who don’t always come when they’re called. So reads the dedication to Helen Brown’s latest memoir, After Cleo: Came Jonah.Helen’s earlier book dealt with how the family cat Cleo helped her young son deal with the tragic death of his older brother. In After Cleo, Helen’s family has farewelled Cleo at the end of a long and peaceful life, and decide that it is time for a life change so they start planning a family wedding, a house move, all while Helen’s youngest daughter is studying for her final exams of high school. Helen is absolutely convinced that there is no way on earth she is going to get another cat to add to this mix.
However, as they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans, and life deals Helen a blow in the form of an aggressive cancerous growth in her breast. Almost simultaneously, Helen’s older daughter has become captivated by the Buddhist teachings of a Sri Lankan monk and has announced her intention to go to Sri Lanka and live in the monastery for an unspecified length of time.There, she plans to teach the monks English, and live as a nun, while considering taking her own vows and remain in the Sri Lankan highlands.
Helen, overwhelmed, reaches out for support to her sister Mary in New Zealand who is also a cancer survivor. Mary happens to walk past a pet shop while staying with Helen, and before you know it a Siamese kitten called Jonah has inveigled his way into the household. Jonah is a high-maintenance, dynamic, irresistible mix of good looks, attitude and charm. He soon has the Brown household tied in knots to keep him amused, and to keep him safe in the urban environment that he is determined to explore. Not entirely a restful companion for Helen who is trying to cope with the potential loss of her daughter as well as the very real loss of her health, hair and so it seems, happiness. Still despite Jonah’s unmistakeable difficulties, and Helen’s own difficulty accepting her daughter’s seeming vocation, all along it is clear that the family is bonded too tightly for anyone or any animal to pull it apart. And so, the daughter and cat are tamed finally, and Helen can hope to achieve her goal of a quiet life surrounded by the love of family (and pets).
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$27.99