Book review: 60 Postcards That Keep on Giving

Written by Naomi

If you don’t want to feel you are having an intimate chat with a friend as she explains the journey she has been on since finding out the news her mother had terminal cancer, don’t pick

If you don’t want to feel you are having an intimate chat with a friend as she explains the journey she has been on since finding out the news her mother had terminal cancer, don’t pick up 60 Postcards, written by Rachael Chadwick. 

If you’re not prepared to laugh and cry with her as she explains her creative and inspirational, feel-good way of dealing with losing the rock in her life, give it a wide berth, but in doing so you will miss out on a fascinating journey and one that is still evolving.

I first came across 60 Postcards in an article in The Guardian, (published 1 March). It told the story of Rachael who had lost her mother Vivienne to cancer, just sixteen days after diagnosis, and her creative efforts to celebrate her life. She chose to do so by leaving postcards around Paris, a city that her mother had known Rachael would one day visit. The Eurostar vouchers were Vivienne’s last present to her daughter.

From a blog to a book

I was immediately hooked on reading the idea of this adventure as it appealed to me on so many levels. Apart from loving Paris, I have the best memories of a half-term holiday there with my own children and I am a sucker for a hand written card. I too lost someone dear to me through cancer and also lost a parent at a time when I could have shared so many new adventures of my own with them. 

I don’t believe you have to have experienced any of these events though to appreciate what Rachael has written here. As a human being the stories of patterns, synchronicity and compassion will make this book one that will stick in your memory…and you may become involved in a new adventure yourself.

The book began life as a blog and as Rachael writes, “A blog would be the perfect platform to write about both the memorial project and to jot down all of the words, feelings and memories whirling around in my head about Mum.” The project involved buying 60 postcards that would be dispersed over Paris on the anniversary of Vivienne’s 60th birthday.

It begins as Rachael and her Paris Crew head to St Pancras on a December morning and introduces the setting for the celebration weekend. The reader is then taken back to the day that events began to change in the Chadwick household and the story unfolds about her mother’s untimely illness and subsequent loss of her fight. Continuing with tales of how she dealt with the changes we are brought back to Paris as the 60 postcards idea begins to take shape.

As I read it I became aware of the asides in the book – which originally, I was unsure about. The more I read though, the more I became drawn into the piece as a conversation. Of course there would be asides – it’s what friends do when they talk to one another. The book would be a colder story without them.

Creative thinking

Very quickly we begin the trail of the postcards and what develops. I wouldn’t want to spoil the journey for would-be-readers but suffice to say there are responses, with friendships made and strengthened following this weekend of handwritten tributes. I cannot tell you the end as there isn’t one… nor will there be one.

Rachael has seen to that. No end to the memory of her loving mother and no end to the tale that began with the distribution of sixty postcards, the first at the Café des Deux Moulins. As Rachael writes in her book, having placed the postcard on the table, “I found it difficult to resist the urge to look back.”

I hope having started this project she continues to look forward with hope and wonder at what has evolved from her and her family’s tragic loss. I urge you to read it and see what it inspires – and what you can learn about the world around you from it.

Of course I cannot speak for her own mother but as a mother of two grown up daughters who are independent and widely travelled I can say that if Rachael had been my daughter I would be immensely proud of what she has achieved. Apart from looking outward in ways she could not have thought about in the shocking, hard days after Vivienne’s passing, she has brought many people together and awarded her mother a fitting tribute.

I urge you to read this book and see how much can be achieved with a small piece of creative thinking. Who knows where it might take you and whose path you might cross.

60 Postcards, by Rachael Chadwick is published by Simon & Schuster. Have your say on the book in the comments section below.