One Minute Book Review – Umbrella by Will Self

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I picked this book up after hearing that it dealt, in fictional form, with similar experiences to Oliver Sach’s Awakenings. I put it down after a single page as I had no desire to force myself through 400 pages of unpunctuated stream of consciousness. Months later I came across the audiobook (someone else had done all the hard work) and discovered what a breathtaking work of fiction this is.

Zack Busner, a radical psychiatrist, arrives at Friern mental hospital in London in 1971. He puts into place a new approach to treatment of the catatonic patients who contracted encephalitis lethargica at the end of the First World War l. His experimental use of L-Dopa brings them back to consciousness. Audrey Death is one of these patients, an intelligent independent munitions worker who has been in a coma since the end of the War. The story also deals with her brothers  Albert, a career civil servant, and Stanley, a soldier sent to France.

The language and descriptions are rich and the characters and their environment vibrantly created – the prose is rollicking and humourous at times, as well as deeply affecting. A great listen, reading the book is only for the truly courageous. That said, when I am feeling stronger I intend to take on Shark but, again, as an audio book.

Detailed review here.

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