Rest and Be Thankful
Rest and be thankful is about a nurse, named Laura, working in a paediatric unit at a hospital. Having offered up everything she has to give to her long shifts and in caring for the breakable bodies of sick children, Laura is driven to the verge of a mental breakdown, brought on by an endless cycle of grief and fatigue. In this story we see Laura drift in and out of nightmarish dreams which merge with reality to make us question whether what we are reading is about her troubled psyche or a ghost story - or both.
So I googled ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ to see if I could find any hidden meanings. In my search I found that Rest and Be Thankful is actually a place in Scotland which is named after a viewpoint that is so long and steep to get to, that at the end of their journey travellers would rest at the top, thankful for having reached the highest point. It’s also linked to a famous Wordsworth poem which refers to this same place. The front cover of the book I own features a portrait of Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, a famous painting which depicts the Shakespearean character driven mad by desperation and grief before she fatefully drowns herself.
As an ex-English student, I get excited when I spot literary references like this and while it could be argued these are exclusive or even pretentious, I think they can be helpful in revealing an author’s intentions beyond the words on the page. They can also add a lot of context particularly when reading shorter books such as this. In this case, these references add to the deeply disturbing atmosphere in this novella by using famous references to madness and bringing them up to the modern day. Putting this into today’s context, Rest and Be Thankful is a reminder of the sacrifice hospital staff and people who work with sick patients make every day. At one point Laura describes herself as being a cotton bud, absorbing the pain of others around her: “We are cotton buds sucking up the sadness of others, we are saturated. We are saviours. We absorb pain, too thick with mess to notice that everything around us is drying up and growing over.” Laura’s mental and emotional decline is unsettling, for sure, but it isn’t uncommon.
The reason why I love short stories and novellas so much is because it takes a very skillful writer to be able to encapsulate everything they need to say (and with impact) in so few words. Glass’ writing is phenomenal and I would be interested in reading her debut novel, Peach. If you’ve read it and have any opinions, I’d love to hear them!