Sunday, 20 October 2013

On the same page

I saw Dr Nigel Speight, retired consultant paediatrician, speak yesterday afternoon, it was a joy to listen to a doctor express such openmindedness and curiosity and compassion about ME. He was on the panel of the International Consensus Criteria 2011, so it is not surprising he is such a great advocate. It was frightening to hear what some children with severe ME are being exposed to in terms of psychiatric assessments. Shame on all of those assessors. This from an ME conference in Northern Ireland in August gives a flavour of what he was saying yesterday.

(Interesting too that when he first got involved in ME in the mid-1980s in Durham he was seeing a lot of Coxsackie, which of course is the virus that triggered my own ME.)


So Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker for her second novel The Luminaries, hugely impressive at 28-years-old, her acceptance speech was gorgeous, though I have to say the book itself does not appeal to me.  I don't think it appealed to Robert McCrum either, who wrote this, a bit uncharitable I think,  before the prize was announced. Still, passions run high when it comes to the Booker.  I did agree with him about the Ozeki and my mother liked it even less, she left me a message on Tuesday night saying, Thank God that awful book didn't win (I'd persevered because it was Booker-shortlisted and I believed it had to redeem itself at some point, she persevered because my stepdad had given it to her for her birthday, which means I had given it to her as I choose all my stepdad's gifts for her now, his dementia is, of course, worsening).

 In this Guardian interview, I like Catton's comments:
It is the peculiar constellation of her age, gender and the particular nature of The Luminaries that has, she believes, provoked "a sense of irritation from some critics – that I have been so audacious to have taken up people's time by writing a long book. There's a sense in there of: 'Who do you think you are? You can't do that.' Something else related to that is to do with the omniscient third person narration of the book. There's a feeling of: 'All right, we can tolerate [this] from a man over 50, but we are not going to be spoken to like that by you.'"

In my current writing project, am wrestling with 3rd person omniscient myself, though I will soon be as old as those male critics. But it is a challenge and I will hopefully get there  (I like that much is made of the ten year gap between both Ruth Ozeki and Donna Tartt's last books - for those of us who have horribly limited energy, ten years are nothing.)

 I also enjoyed dipping into this timeline of the Booker, the backstage gossip.


Very long novels can be off-putting, and Cornflowerbooks has written a post asking if we are discouraged from reading books  because of their length (I'd say yes).  Still, I am keen on reading The Goldfinch, though have not been able to get into Donna Tartt before. I loved her on The BBC Review Show last week,  her clarity and confidence. When Kirsty Wark suggested that secrets were at the heart of all of her books, she replied that secrets are at the heart of all novels. This I loved. And while Kamila Shamsie (above) raved about The Goldfinch, Julie Myerson was not impressed at all.

And if there were a Booker 2013  for ME doctors, I'd give it to Dr Speight. He has helped children with  ME enormously (I think he said he had seen almost 600 cases nationwide over the years). With fiction you can argue whether a book is good or bad, it is subjective. Medicine, of course, is not always black and white either: experts can disagree, have conflicting views on the best treatments. That is different though than manipulating a neuroimmune illness, turning it into a psychiatric illness, moulding it like Plasticine, as the Wessely school have done since the late 80s. Dr Speight began his talk by apologising for the medical profession's treatment of people with ME. You know you are on exactly the same page when a doctor does this. We need many more like him, those who are passionate about the pursuit of truth.

More on Dr Speight's career here,  scroll down to see.

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