مرکزی صفحہ Seizure Lying Awake: Mark Salzman, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2000. £14.99 (hardback), 181pp. ISBN...
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Seizure 2003; 12: 190 doi:10.1016/S1059–1311(02)00322-9 BOOK REVIEW Lying Awake. Mark Salzman, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2000. £14.99 (hardback), 181pp. ISBN 0-7475-5740-3. The pairing of religiosity with illness is not an unfamiliar theme on which to base a novel. Mark Salzman’s ‘Lying Awake’ uses this device to explore the intertwining of monastic life and neurological illness through the depiction of Helen Nye/Sister John of the Cross’s life in a Carmelite convent. Sister John, as she is named after a year as a postulant, suffers from severe headaches that are initially diagnosed as migraines, but when they begin to be accompanied by loss of consciousness she is referred to a doctor who informs her she has epilepsy caused by a meningioma and schedules her for surgery to remove the growth. However, Sister John has come to regard her seizures as the source of visions and feelings of religious exaltation. Confronted with the possibility that her religious devotion may be based on the symptoms of a neurological condition rather than celestial inspiration, she must decide whether to continue living her life with seizures or risk losing her faith through surgery. Salzman approaches this potentially absorbing narrative with a plodding and often irritating style. He seems intent on proving himself as a clever writer and to this end peppers his novel with virtually incomprehensible and pretentious phrases (what, for example, is “an algorithm of longing?”). The foundations and veracity of his narrative are also questionable. I have no experience of Californian convents (the novel is set on the outskirts of Los Angeles), but having worked with nuns in both film and print in Scotland and Holland, I feel in some position to comment on the way in which he portrays a religious order. Although he appears to have done his research on the structures and hierarchy of a Carmelite convent, he has failed to enliven this with engaging and rich characters and has instead padded it out with a soft focus and insubsta; ntial depiction presenting little of the humour, sassiness and humanity I encountered. The main character herself is portrayed in a rather impenetrable way: as is expected in a contemplative order such as the Carmelites, she spends most of her time in dialogue with god. This forms the basis of her faith—and therefore her life— 1059–1311/03/$30.00 but it makes it rather difficult for the non-devout reader to empathize with her. As the accompanying central theme of the novel, the neurological aspects are dealt with sparingly. It would appear that, aside from the “standard neurological examination”—as Salzman refers to it—a CT scan, and an EEG Sister John receives little in the way of medical advice. There certainly seems to be no attempt at providing her with any sort of holistic treatment or basic support: she is offered no pre- or post-surgery counseling, the medical tests she undergoes are either skimmed over or omitted from the narrative, and the closest anyone gets to explaining to her anything about epilepsy is when a doctor drops a leaflet from her medical notes (it is hastily replaced but passed onto her at a later appointment). Given the immense impact which surgery may have upon Sister John’s life, to leave her with only her own inner searching for support seems both an unlikely and neglectful course of action for a medical professional. Quite why she is left so unsupported is not made clear: perhaps her doctors felt she was either too unworldly to comprehend any explanations given or was sufficiently supported by her fellow Sisters. It is unfortunate that as a novel ‘Lying Awake’ is so lacking in the intensity that could drive a study of the themes it attempts to address. The precious tone used to present Sister John detracts from the profound and very real dilemma with which she is faced. As a subject of God’s will she has no choice but to accept the fate he has created for her—both the illness and the visions—and yet her spiritual and physical life are threatened by it. Salzman’s failure to create a sufficiently abundant character around which to centre his novel and his scant coverage of the neurological aspects of the narrative make of potentially fascinating subjects a decidedly unsatisfying book. K. Gould Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital Mindelson Way, Birmingham B 15 2QZ, UK E-mail: katie email@example.com © 2003 BEA Trading Ltd. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.