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Time Lived, Without Its Flow by Denise Riley review – captive to the present tense

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A grieving mother’s account of life after her son’s death is exquisitely expressed

This small, blue hardback, with lines of gold coursing down its front cover, might – from the outside – be mistaken for an exquisite book of prayer but it was written by the poet Denise Riley in response to the death of her adult son and is not about conventional consolation. The book will be appreciated by its readers precisely because it resists false notes. It was clear from Say Something Back (2016), Riley’s unforgettable poetry collection, which included a poem about the death of her son, that she has, emotionally, perfect pitch.

It was apparent, too, that she is an out-of-the-ordinary narrator – approaching her son’s tragedy crab-wise. It is only halfway through this new book that we learn that Jake was found dead in a still-running bath, having possibly died of a heart attack. These facts are offered not to satisfy our anxious curiosity but noted almost incidentally as Riley pores over his autopsy, wondering whether she might have prevented his death.

She writes from a brink, describes a “paper-thin” existence, as though detained at a border crossing

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