How a tale of family tragedy helped to lift the gloom - The Week in Radio

This is a dreadful time of year for radio. Well, OK, it's a dreadful time of year all round. But at the start of the worst month in the calendar – a time of tax returns, doomed diets, burning cold sores, soaring rail fares and incessant sideways rain – you might think that commissioning editors would do their best to cheer us all up. A big new documentary series might have gone some way in brightening the mood, or a hot new comedy show. But no. They want us to boil in our own bad temper.

Thus, on Radio 4, More or Less went big on how pension charges are going to leave us all short-changed and force us to see out our final years on a diet of gruel. Saturday Drama revolved around a married couple trying to murder each other – "You've walked into a nightmare," said a man called Glen, and I had to agree with him. Meanwhile, Tuesday's Afternoon Drama had Robert Bathurst reading Christopher Reid's poems about the death of his spouse.

The misery didn't stop there. In A Point of View, the political philosopher John Gray began his reflection on the problems of evangelical belief with a quote from a Christian missionary: "Whatever happens, we are all doomed to disappear shortly from this Earth." I switched off, lest I give in to the urge to disappear sooner than scheduled, possibly off the edge of a cliff.

It was probably tempting fate to give Something Understood a whirl, which was about boredom and in which John McCarthy described with alarming precision the experience in which all joy is slowly sapped from us, replaced by an irritable and despairing listlessness.

The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa once wrote that it was "like having a cold in the soul", while Christian monks saw it as a precursor to sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. All of which was fascinating, but hardly helpful to my general ennui.

On Sunday, I hoped David Sedaris, the American essayist, might lift my spirits. He usually does. If I were given the keys to the BBC, I'd have him on every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I'm still chuckling at an episode a few weeks ago in which he detailed a recent colonoscopy and its aftermath, notably the post-op "farting room" where patients could joyously let rip.

But, in keeping with the general mood, this week's episode – the last in a pretty much perfect series – began bleakly. "In late May of 2013," said Sedaris, "a few weeks shy of her 50th birthday, my younger sister Tiffany committed suicide."

Sedaris's essay, entitled "The Sea Section", chronicled a family reunion near the beach shortly after her death, where he and his siblings tried to adjust to the fact that there were no longer six of them, but five.

Stories were told, dinners were eaten and, perhaps in an attempt to glue them back together, Sedaris ended up buying a beach house for the whole family. Only at the end, when many had already left, did he ask the question that had been on all their lips: "Why do you think she did it?" to which there was no satisfactory answer.

Sedaris has made a career out of detailing the foibles of his family. Tiffany had told him years ago: "You can never write about me", but later changed her mind as she was worried people didn't like her.

Although Sedaris gave us reason to smile occasionally, this wasn't about the laughs, which is something of a departure for him. Instead, it outlined the bewilderment, the fear and the guilt of a terrible family tragedy. It was sad, yes, but it was also wonderful.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders