Retired lawyer Matthew Thomas takes a trip down memory lane in a memoir dedicated to his late wife, Anne

'Ivy on Stone' covers how they met, his core memories from their life together and his struggle to come to terms with her death from cancer.

Thomas’ writing reminds one of candid heartfelt conversations with friends and family — without frills, but poignant (Photo: Matahari Books)

Old Hollywood icon Bette Davis is credited with the quote, “Pleasure of love lasts but a moment. Pain of love lasts a lifetime.” Anyone who has lost a loved one, by separation or death, can attest to this. However, that pain is compounded by an untimely passing, especially from an fatal accident or illness.

In his third book, Ivy on Stone, retired Malaysian lawyer and author Matthew Thomas offers a glimpse into his marriage with his late wife, Anne. A heartfelt memoir in her memory, it covers how they met, his core memories from their life together and his struggle to come to terms with her death from cancer.

A truly human account, this book unravels the complexities and painful realities of marriage while touching on concepts of tradition, religion and personal growth as experienced by Thomas and shaped by his marriage. But how much more is there to this read?

Ivy on Stone earns its name from the couple’s relationship dynamic, wherein Thomas was the provider, the “rock of the household” and Anne,“the ivy that grew over the stone, covered it, protected it from the sun, rain and wind, but never overwhelming or choking it”. She was someone with whom he could “jointly weather the storms of life”.

Thomas and Anne were introduced to each other when he was 29 and they married within a year of their first meeting. Over the chapters, they buy their first home, tour various countries from Spain to Tanzania, quarrel and make up, growing as individuals and as a pair. Their usually peaceful life comes to a screeching halt when a historically healthy Anne encounters a string of progressively serious health complications and is eventually diagnosed with cancer. Her funeral was held in the same church where she and Thomas wed in all those years ago. Now widowed, the author celebrates her by recounting bittersweet memories and the impact she made on his life.


A whole lotta pix from the full-house launch of Matthew Thomas's IVY ON STONE -- a memoir about life with his late wife. Thanks to all who came!

Posted by Matahari Books on Saturday, October 14, 2023


A key thing to note about memoirs like this is they often tend to extensively cut the fluff. As such, an author might favour a more straightforward, pointed writing style, and for the most part, Thomas is no different. The bulk of the book covers his own recollections with Anne and his present-day reflections, relayed in his sincere, singular point of view. Some who are used to the elaborative nature of fiction may find it dry. Having said that, despite the reader’s occasional hankering for additional details and colourful descriptions, Thomas’ writing reminds one of candid heartfelt conversations with friends and family — without frills, but poignant.

What seriously tugs at the heartstrings are the deeper subjects Ivy on Stone enables the reader to explore. To begin with, their arranged union (and the religious and filial ties that typically come with such marriages) is something most of youths today would highly oppose. But lest one worries this is yet another tale of a loveless marriage, Thomas and Anne’s story quickly puts paid to any doubts as it, instead, encourages one to question what they know and understand about love and how it forms and grows between two people, leading to the conclusion that even the most apprehensive situations can hold endless happiness if one remains open to the possibilities.

In addition, Thomas’ monologues grapple with the stages of grief as he learns to cope and make peace with Anne’s ultimate passing. His note on the fact that “there was no bargaining with death” inspires ruminations about how despite advancements in modern medicine and technology, it eventually comes for all of us and the average person has little control over how and when he departs. To barter with fate is a foolish venture, but that does not mean life loses its lustre. And yes, there is happiness to be found after tragedy, so long as one has faith. As Thomas says upon witnessing a pair of birds flitting around his home garden after losing Anne: “Just seeing [the birds] each day makes me feel like there is hope in life, and that is what I need to rekindle within myself.”

Ivy on Stone does not offer the whirlwind, Hollywood movie depiction of love that romantics know and are fond of. So, if you are looking to be swept off your feet, then it is perhaps best if you search elsewhere. If you, however, appreciate rawness or prefer realistic portrayals of relationships in the media you consume, and have a decent bandwidth for honesty and melancholy, this is one to consider in your next hunt for a pageturner.


Purchase a copy of 'Ivy on Stone' at RM35 from Gerakbudaya here.

This article first appeared on Dec 18, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.

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