Am enjoying Neel Mukherjee's 2010 novel A Life Apart - a novel within a novel - and was surprised to come across this observation from the main character Ritwik Ghosh, a student from Calcutta studying English Lit at Oxford in 80s/90s:
'And then there is the steady rise of illnesses Ritwik's never heard of - glandular fever and ME, chronic fatigue syndrome and RSI. God, these are the very people who take a dozen jabs before they go to India and carry a whole pharmacy with them! At least you get nothing more serious than diarrhoea or worms out there but here you get incurable, unheard of things such as BSE and CFS and ME, the acronyms themselves trying to hide the dreaded nature of the new-fangled confections.'
It's not often you come across references to ME in fiction. Ritwik has had an impoverished, traumatic childhood in Calcutta, at the hands of a violent mother - those passages are hard to read - and the point here is that these new 'British' illnesses scare him - in a way, India is safer.
I would like Ritwik to read The State of Me, though it was not yet written then, but Helen Fleet, also an English Lit student in eighties, was of course already ill with ME.
I also love this paragraph:
'These presences and shadows scare him sometimes. He has taken to sitting with his back firmly pressed to the corner where two walls meet at right angles. He has become like a cat: at least two sides are covered and nothing can startle him from behind. Whatever encounter there is in store for him will be face to face; he's prepared for it, ready to look it in the eye.'
Heartbreaking, he has become like a cat.
How I love novels.