Sunday, May 17, 2009

Verity Red’s Diary – A Story of Surviving M.E.: Maria Mann

I only really got into this when she was given three kittens, Paddy, Murphy, and Mary, and began describing their antics. Having ME is rather boring – nothing happens, and improvement is so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable. Every person with ME has a different collection of symptoms to differing degrees, so I found it difficult to identify with Mann, whose condition is much worse than mine. She also suffered from the ignorance and prejudice of the medical world and family members, all of whom appeared to be quite sceptical and unsympathetic about her illness. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of ME, and quite why people suffering from this condition should be subject to such prejudice is difficult to understand. Anyone doubting the existence of this prejudice (coming from doctors and lay-persons alike) only needs to read relevant entries on the now infamous blog of the so-called “Dr Crippen”, a practising NHS doctor in the UK, and comments that readers have added on the topic.

Aside from all this, Mann has a whimsical and creative style which includes her quirky and funny poems, imaginary parties with pixies and dwarves, and odd-ball names for friends and local drinking establishments where her boyfriend disappears to on Friday nights. She has managed to find the humour in ME, in spite of it all, and this is what makes her story an enjoyable read. Her life, constrained by moderately severe ME, is described in every detail, sometimes minute by minute, as she struggles to wash a plate or get dressed. Her weekly visits to the osteopath and exchange of letters with friends provide an external view of her ordeal. If you have ME or know someone who has it, and enjoy this style of writing, then this would be an interesting book. If you’re looking for a traditional novel with gripping action and in-depth characters, then I’d look elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miss Garnet’s Angel: Salley Vickers

Several reviewers quoted on the front and back covers of this book describe it as ‘subtle’. I agree. I hadn’t, and still haven’t, come across this novel anywhere else until a friend gave it to me to read. At first I wasn’t greatly taken with it, finding the main character, Julia Garnet, somewhat boring and unsympathetic. I was prepared for some soppy tale of how she finds a guardian angel and true love in Venice, despite her age.

The story did not proceed as expected. It turned into a fascinating historical novel going back to the ancient Jewish tale of Tobias, which almost certainly had its roots in an even older tale coming from the Zoroastrians of Persia. Some of the tale of Tobias takes place in Nineveh, present day Iraq, and it’s saddening to note that Christian communities which have existed for many centuries in that region of the world (they pre-date the Muslims by a very long time) are now being forced out of their ancient homelands.

The ancient story is balanced with a modern-day parallel, and there is a pleasantly happy ending (of the kind that I might choose for myself) that doesn’t involve anything quite as unrealistic as the main character falling in love.