Death in Print: The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey, Meet: Funeral director, interfaith minister and author Jackie Bailey Death on Screen: The Beautiful Lie
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DEATH IN PRINT
The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey
The Eulogy is described as an autofiction novel, which is another way of saying autobiographical novel. Essentially it means the protagonist or lead character is modelled after the author and the central plotline also mirrors events in his or her life. It’s a term that’s used to very clearly distinguish the story from being a memoir or auto-biography (listen to the podcast to find out why Jackie Bailey decided to do this).
In The Eulogy, the author calls her protagonist Kathy Bradley and the story begins when Kathy returns to her hometown of Logan, in south-east Queensland, just after her sister Annie has died after an extremely long decline after being diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was a child. (Inspired by the author's own life; her older sister Allison - was also diagnosed with a brain tumour as a child but lived for another couple of decades. The two are pictured above: Allison on the left and Jackie on the right.)
When Kathy arrives in Logan, she sleeps in her car. We soon learn she has driven overnight from Sydney to help plan her sister’s funeral with her five surviving siblings. More intriguingly, the author reveals she is running from a kidnapping charge, has blocked her husband’s number on her phone, and has a container full of sleeping pills in her a glove box. So, from early in the book, we know this isn’t going to be your average grief story, we’re going to travel via a circuitous route of mystery and suspense.
It's obvious that there are some very complex family dynamics at play – Kathy’s relationship with her parents are difficult and she’s estranged from most of her older sisters – but her love for her sister Annie is undisputed. Kathy is charged with writing her sister’s eulogy and, as she does so reflects on her life, the impact of her sister’s diagnosis on her family members, the reasons her mother and father became the dysfunctional parents they were, and are today. In telling the story, the author explores race, disability, trauma, poverty and abuse.
The Eulogy is a compelling but not always easy read – the strained family dynamics often manifest in a bitter tone from our narrator – but as we reach the conclusion, there is redemption. As Jackie Bailey writes in her thank you note at the back of the book, her sister taught her how to love.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT JACKIE BAILEY AND HER BOOK
Dr Jackie Bailey is an author, independent funeral director and ordained interfaith minister (the 'Dr' was bestowed after obtaining a PhD in creative writing from the University of New South Wales).
She aims to empower people to live a spiritual life with or without religion and offers alternative and independent funeral and wedding services.
After her sister passed away in 2015, Jackie wanted to make a difference to people like her and her family, who could not afford great big funerals and who wanted something more personal to treasure as memories of her. She searched for a course of study which would provide more meaning than “civil” celebrancy and would help her to offer spiritual services to people who are no longer religious but who still yearn for a connection to mystery and awe in their lives.
In 2016, Jackie enrolled in a Masters of Theology and ordination program through The New Seminary, which is the world’s oldest “interfaith” seminary. She graduated and was ordained as an “Interfaith Minister” in 2018, and has been offering spiritual services and support since 2017.
Her ministry takes the form of celebrancy, end-of-life care, spiritual care and counsel, and writing.
She has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Artshub, Screenhub, Artlink, Online Opinion, Arts Professional UK, Cultural Trends, Australian Journal of Human Rights, and has also contributed to publications on storytelling, love, and death and dying.
She is currently working on a non-fiction book with the working title Sublime: Living As Though Life Matters, which sets out practical tools for how to lead a spiritual life without religion.
Jackie lives in the Illawarra, which is about an hour and a half south of Sydney, with her husband and daughter and offer services throughout Australia and internationally.
The Beautiful Lie is a modern-day reimagining of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, produced by John Edwards and Imogen Banks.
Australian actress Sarah Snook plays Anna, who is perhaps the contemporary Australian equivalent of a 19th century Russian aristocrat, a top tennis player.
Screenwriter Alice Bell then substituted a music producer and DJ called Skeet, played by Benedict Samuel, for Vronsky, the cavalry officer who in 1878 stole Anna's heart in Tolstoy's novel.
The story begins Anna finding out that her brother Kingsley has slept with the au pair. She immediately flies to the rescue.
On her way home, Anna and Skeet meet at the airport in a variation on the ‘two degrees of separation’ rule that seems to apply in Australasia. On the flight, Anna starts chatting to a stranger, who tells her about her son. They bump into each other again outside the terminal and her fellow passenger, who she now knows much more intimately, introduces her to her son, Skeet.
Minutes later, they witness someone being hit by a car. In that moment, they are mutual witnesses of the fragility and brevity of life. And in that instant, they fall spectacularly in love. Which of course manifests itself as lust. It is this expression of how a sudden and unexpected death can, in a second, change the course of your life that interested me most, and qualified this series for discussion here on this show.
Anna falls hopelessly in love with much younger Skeet. Meanwhile, her brother’s wife Dolly is naturally angry but willing to forgive. Their messy – and often hilarious – road to reconciliation serves as a mirror to Anna’s and Skeet’s secretive
So you might think the affair itself is the lie but it turns out to be much more complex than that, exploring the boundaries that blur between what one person might think is merely a misleading moment and a conscious and very deliberate intention to deceive. To what extent is lying by omission as potentially damaging as a straight out lie? What about lying to ourselves? What games do we play when we tell ourselves we are keeping secrets to protect others?
I'm not going to tell you what the lie is at the heart of this series - that would be a spoiler - but I can share some insight into the title from the series' director of photography, John Brawley, who writes on his blog:
“We all had different views of what the title, The Beautiful Lie even meant in pre-production. It was fascinating to sit around the table in very early pre and hear everyone’s version of what it meant to them. For me the title refers to the bitter sweet lie of love, the romantic ideal that we can have a soul mate out there who’s destined for us, fated to be with us. When Anna follows her heart, to be with the one she thinks is her true love, she pays the ultimate price. The story is timeless because the themes are timeless. The Beautiful Lie looks at the nature of love, the cost of love and its betrayal.”
The Beautiful Lie is available on Netflix in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.