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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Review of 'Excuse me, My Brains Have Stepped Out', by Pandora Poikilos


This book, described and promoted as 'Women's Fiction', reads like a memoir. This, together with information given me in a blog interview with the author (use the link if you wish to read it: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2011/08/author-interview-with-pandora-poikilos.html ), leads me to believe it's a fictionalised account of real events. It's not uncommon, of course, for writers to present their life stories as fiction and, as often as not, it's done to protect those they grew up with. All that said, this novel reads like a life story.
It's presented largely as a series of letters to the narrator's father. These include hints at a past we never fully learn but which clearly contains distressing events. The letters also include passages of opinion on various aspects of humanity, relationships and life in general. It's an interesting device and, for the most part, works well in the context of the book. There were times, however, when I found the authorial voice a little intrusive and sometimes tiresome.
There are editing deficiencies in the text, which is unfortunately peppered with instances of tense change and other grammatical errors. This should have rendered the book unreadable for me, since I find such presentation very irritating, believing that writers should learn the rules before going on to break them. It's testament to the quality of the content that the faults didn't stop me reading to the end.
The emotional journey we take with the narrator is profound, disturbing, difficult and, uplifting. This isn't a story full of action; there's no apparent sequence of events and no plot. This is an exposition of the very significant barriers and obstructions to normal life faced by an individual suffering from Intracranial Hypertension; a rare brain condition. Had the author merely set out what had happened to Anya, the subject of the story, it would've probably resulted in a turgid text. But her presentation of events through intimate and touching letters to Anya's father, in spite of occasional passages where she tells him things he already knows, renders the tale into a moving and easily digested account.
Anya complains about those who say they 'understand' her situation, suggesting that such understanding can be achieved only through similar suffering. I 'understand' her view on that topic. But feel I have some, albeit small, understanding of aspects of her condition and her fight to achieve normality. Having suffered ME/CFS for eight years (now recovered), I know how limiting certain conditions can be and I commend her efforts, courage and sheer determination in completing what must have been a very demanding undertaking.
This is a book that some will find difficult, some won't finish, but which cannot fail to move those who take the trouble to accompany Anya on her journey, against seemingly impossible odds, toward a destination that will leave them in a better place than they started. Uplifting and inspiring.

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