I was perusing the shelves of my local bookshop in Bondi, Gertrude & Alice, with my great friend Krish, when she first told me about Poorna Bell and her book Chase the Rainbow. She had met her through a friend in London and I was immediately interested to find out she had written a book. From then on I kept my eye out for Chase the Rainbow every time I found myself in a bookshop, but, after many months had passed, I succumbed to the notion of ordering it online.
Prior to reading Chase the Rainbow, I knew its premise: Poorna’s husband had committed suicide after a lengthy battle with mental illness and drug addiction. I knew it would be a moving and upsetting read; and yet: I didn’t anticipate reading it until 1am; willing my eyes to stay open so that I could get through as many pages as possible before bed, nor did I think I would find myself setting my alarm for 5am the next morning so I could squeeze in as much reading as possible before work. And I certainly didn’t plan on finishing Chase the Rainbow, on a packed bus in Bondi, surrounded by people, tears streaming down my face, as I said a silent prayer for Rob, the man who inspired such a heartbreaking read.
A beautiful ode to her late husband, in Chase the Rainbow we learn about Poorna’s disinterest in being set up with Rob prior to their first date, and we learn about how their love bloomed and blossomed into something so strong, it was impossible not to feel it as the reader. Alas, their love wasn’t to be of the fairytale sort, and soon after saying I do, Poorna learnt of Rob’s drug addiction, and the consequences – the debt, the lies and the detrimental behaviour – that went hand in hand.
As well as documenting the demise of both her marriage to Rob and his flailing health, Poorna also explores the stigma still attached to mental health; its history and why we are where we are in modern-day Britain.
However well you know how a story will end, when it happened; when I started the chapter in which I knew Rob would die, my shoulders were tense, and my heart was heavy as I reluctantly turned the pages to come face to face with his devastating fate. I cried for Rob, Poorna’s husband, and I too cried for a dear boy called Carl; my big sister’s ex boyfriend who also committed suicide after battling a heroin addiction. Almost two decades have passed since it happened, but I still remember his upturned nose and wide open smile like it was yesterday.
A heartbreaking, powerful and poignant book about loneliness and loss; about grief and goodbyes, about depression and addiction and the desperate need society has to destigmatize mental health, Chase the Rainbow is a beautiful and brave and important book that everyone should read. I hope many more readers are moved by this book in the way I was, in the weeks and months and years to come, and I pray that Rob rests peacefully somewhere.
About Chase the Rainbow
Punk rocker, bird nerd and book lover Rob Bell had a full, happy life. He had a loving wife, a big-bottomed dog named Daisy and a career as a respected science journalist. But beneath the carefully cultivated air of machoism and the need to help other people, he struggled with mental health and a drug addiction that began as a means to self-medicate his illness. In 2015, he ended his life in New Zealand on a winter’s night.
But what happened? How did a middle-class Catholic boy from the suburbs, who had an ocean of people who loved him, and a brain the size of a planet, end up dying alone by his own hand? How did it get to this point?
In the search to find out about the man she loved, and how he arrived at that desperate, dark moment, Poorna Bell, Executive Editor of The Huffington Post UK, went on a journey spanning New Zealand, India and England to discover more about him.
A month after his death, she shared her personal tragedy in an open letter to Rob on the site, which went on to be read by hundreds of thousands of people across the world. This is Poorna’s story, not only of how she met the man of her dreams and fell in love, but also Rob’s story and how he suffered with depression since childhood and had secretly been battling addiction as a means to cope with the illness.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and a staggering 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness disease at some point in our lives, but the stigma surrounding mental health means that millions still suffer in silence.
Chase the Rainbow is an affecting, poetic, and deeply personal journey which teaches to seek hope and happiness, even in the most tragic of circumstances. Shattering the stigma surrounding depression and suicide, Poorna Bell challenges us talk about what we most fear, and to better understand the personal struggles of those closest to us.
About Poorna Bell
Poorna Bell is an award-winning journalist and is the former executive editor of HuffPost UK. She has appeared on a number of judging panels including the Decibel prize for the British Book Awards. Poorna has also previously written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, Red, Cosmo, Stylist and the Observer. For five years she was a regular on BBC radio, and has featured on Sky News, London Live and ITV. She is the author of non-fiction book Chase The Rainbow and is currently working on a second book, In Search Of Silence.
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