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
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project