When the Feast is Finished

When the Feast is Finished
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A moving account of the death of Brian Aldiss’ wife Margaret.Margaret Aldiss, Brian’s wife of thirty years, passed away quickly after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Based on journals they both kept, When the Feast is Finished is a moving account of those last months of Margaret’s life.Alongside Margaret’s bravely honest journal entries, Aldiss draws a heartbreaking portrait of the sustaining force of love in the face of a devastating illness.As husband and wife describe those last few precious months, they give thanks for the thirty years of joy and happiness they shared, the children of whom they are so proud, and the chance to say goodbye.


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With Margaret Aldiss

When the Feast is Finished

A memoir of Love and Bereavement


An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

1 London Bridge Street

London SE1 9GF


This ebook first published in Great Britain by HarperVoyager in 2015

Copyright © Brian Aldiss 2015

Cover layout design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2015

Cover photograph © Shutterstock.com

Brian Aldiss asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 978-0-00-748260-3

Ebook Edition © July 2015 ISBN: 978-0-00-748261-0

Version: 2015-07-01

To Alison

Who made my life habitable

after the feast was finished –

with much gratitude

In loving memory of my wife,

Margaret Christie Manson Aldisss

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,

But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,

There falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;

And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,

Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.


We must all be grateful to Brian Aldiss for his courage and determination in writing this fine book about the terminal illness of his wife, Margaret, who claimed she was not ‘important’ enough for such attention. In doing so, he has given us a portrait of a remarkable woman and a remarkable marriage; he has also produced the best day-to-day, personal account of a terminal illness I have ever read.

Anyone who has worked with the dying will instantly recognise the authenticity of this account, which is particularly valuable to medical professionals in its report of the first-rate hospice care provided by the Sir Michael Sobell House, Oxford. For this reason alone, the book should be read by every hospice worker and all medical and nursing students and practitioners.

For the general reader, the extraordinary honesty of the book makes it compelling reading. Brian Aldiss is an excellent writer and he writes as life really is: raw, contradictory, repetitive, bright at one moment, unbearable at the next, glorious, infuriating, ultimately mysterious beyond our power to comprehend.

I believe it is a book that will comfort many people who face similar circumstances, including the dying themselves, as well as the care-givers and the bereaved. Such a fearlessly intimate glimpse into lives in crisis serves to remind us all that whatever happens, we are not in this alone.

Sandol Stoddard

Leading advocate of

The Hospice Movement and author of

The Hospice Movement:

A Better Way of Caring for the Dying

It was a faultless day in July, hot, sunny, and still. Margaret and I drove over to the country pied-à-terre of our friends Hilary and Helge Rubinstein for lunch. The Rubinsteins welcomed us with their usual warmth. Already other guests were gathering in the garden.

Hilary had set up three tables in the shade of an apple tree while Helge was preparing a lavish cold buffet. Lots of wine, white and red, stood waiting, together with mineral water and Pimms in jugs, brimming with fruit. Margaret sat at one table, I at another, and we enjoyed conversations with friends. Anthony and Catherine Storr were there. This cottage was where I had first met the Storrs, many a year ago, and we are on affectionate terms. One of Anthony’s books is being translated into Korean, another into Mongolian.

Also present was Catriona Bass, a brave and elegant lady who visited Tibet shortly before Margaret went there. The Rhubras, cheerful as usual – Ben, the portrait painter, and his clever potter wife. We enjoyed the company of Philip Sievert and his new wife, Veronica. Philip is youthful and his carefully poised sentences give him an air of stateliness, as if he had emerged from a Henry James novel. On the morrow he was to start editorial work at Harvill Press. Amazingly characteristic of him.

Several other people were there, including the charming Cissy Gill. I loved them all. Perhaps the reflection occurred to me then that to grow old held its own pleasures, when the need to compete had faded and ambition had put away its armour; that to be middle class and English was not the worst of fates the world had in store; that stability was a fortunate quality which had come Margaret’s and my way; and that to be sitting under that particular apple tree at that particular time with those particular acquaintances was to be rated among the good things of this world.

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