My Year Off

My Year Off

Book - 1998
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A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998. "To all concerned, this book is meant to send a ghostly signal across the dark universe of ill-health that says 'you are not alone.'" - Robert McCrum On July 29, 1995, Robert McCrum, 42, married only ten weeks, suffered a paralyzing stroke. Overnight, his life shifted irrevocably. But this admired novelist and former editorial director of the London publishing house Faber and Faber decided to chronicle what became a remarkable journey "into that mysterious, unexplored territory, the neighbourly world of the unwell," as well as a deeply moving love story.
Publisher: [Toronto, Ont.] : Knopf Canada, c1998.
ISBN: 9780676970760
Characteristics: 231 p. ;,23 cm.


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Dec 05, 2009

As the mum of a child who is *not* neurologically typical, the wife of a man who suffered a reasonably serious concussion last year, and the daughter and sister of physiotherapists, I have some interest in the topic of brain injury and neuroplasticity, so when this book was suggested to me, I made an effort to track it down. This was not easy, as it is out of print, and the library copy on which I placed a hold was missing. It took two weeks for the library staff to confirm this and they mysteriously failed to tell me that the large print copy was available, but never mind. I got my mitts on it, read it....and discovered why the book is out of print.

When a stroke wiped out the use of his left side, Robert McCrum was the editor-in-chief of Faber and Faber. As such, he led a very privileged sort of life: he had attended the best schools; he lived in metropolitan London (in Salman Rushdie's house as a matter of fact); he was visited in hospital by numerous important and/or famous friends; and he could afford private therapy. True, his struggle to regain the use of his left leg and later, his left arm was a long and arduous one, hampered by the severe depression that accompanies such a serious "brain insult" as his doctors called it, but in the face of his meandering, intellectual, humourless and (forgive me) rather pompous narrative, it's rather hard to stir up the requisite empathy. Ironically, McCrum found Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "unmoving" because it was "coldly cerebral".

McCrum and his wife (whose diary entries of this trying time are included and provide some much needed warmth) seem to live in a rather insular world. One of the overwhelming tasks facing McCrum's spouse in the wake of this personal disaster is "leaving money for the cleaner", among other mundane household tasks. While I agree that being saddled with everything to do with running a house is further stress in a stressful time, I think most families of stroke victims would welcome having a cleaner at all. Likewise, McCrum declares that his vacation in Barbados was a vital part of his recovery, "a holiday that for ordinary people would seem like pure junketing". Clearly McCrum hangs out with a different class of ordinary people than I do.

So, kudos to Robert McCrum for triumphing over adversity and for discussing his vulnerabilities frankly, but I have to wonder how many stroke victims could identify with his experiences.

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