Coda by Simon Gray

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BBC Radio 4, 8-12 December 2008
This final installment in the dramatist's battles with incurable cancer described his experiences both at home and abroad - of holidaying in Crete, swimming in the sea (despite the imminent threat of exhaustion), his visits to the clinic to check whether the course of chemotherapy had worked, and the christening of his godson Eli (son of the actor Toby Stephens, who read this abridged version of Gray's book.)
While sympathizing with Gray's experiences as someone knowing he does not have long to live (estimates varied between eighteen months and two years), I could not help feeling that Coda was a rather self-adoring piece of work. Recent Afternoon Theatre productions on Radio 4 have examined the experiences of carers charged with the responsibility of looking after their loved ones during illness (I am thinking especially of Robert McCrum's My Year Off.) Gray's partner Victoria had a similar responsibility - yet in Gray's narrative she remained a shadowy figure, either sitting on the beach reading, or ferrying him to and from the clinic. Other figures in Gray's life served as butts for some heavy-handed humour - apparently one of them smiled so brightly, as he informed Gray about the results of his scan, that the dramatist was quite disconcerted.
While it might seem uncharitable to speak of the dead in such a way (Gray died in August this year), I think that Coda is not an attractive work, revealing the author as a fundamentally vain man, unwilling to acknowledge the effect his illness might have on those closest to him. By all accounts Simon Gray was an affable person, a dedicated university teacher and an enthusiastic director who worked hard to inspire both students and actors alike. What a pity that these aspects of his personality did not emerge in this reading. 

My Year Off by Robert McCrum