I read this book in one go, unable to resist the urge to find out where the next chapter went. Frankly, I would not recommend reading it in one go (if you can resist) as the subject is quite unsettling and Cahalan has such a strong voice that she draws you in far too deep in a very emotional story. This is a true story of a shocking descent into madness which is reversed with the discovery that the illness is purely physical, not mental. It is the kind of suspense filled plot that is more often the stuff of thrillers than true life medical stories. Cahalan has such an easy to read and elegant style that is at times even poetic when describing her madness.
Cahalan manages to avoid sounding like a plot from a hospital drama through brutal honesty and through self awareness of how lucky she was to afford her treatment. There’s a clear passion in the writing for getting the word out about this illness and helping to rethink what mental illness is. This book has made me ask more questions about what our real self actually is than any psychology book I’ve read and is full of interesting facts and plenty of detail on many different mental conditions. A must read book if you are interested at all in the nature of the mind or want to keep an eye out for rare diseases in your friends. For more about encephalitis go here.
Unlike fiction, Cahalan is limited to the facts; however, she does not remember most of the period of madness so there is a certain amount of interpolation and I expect that, like anyone, she has chosen to fit them together into a suitable narrative. Given how honest she is in revealing the details of her horrifying disease, I don’t have any problem with this, though I feel like some people may dislike how much she has interpolated about what was going on.I really appreciated Cahalan’s brisk style, undoutably influenced by her journalistic career. It was clear and readable and I liked that she kept neutral rather than dramatising her experience — it steered it away from more mind, spirit and body biography and kept it serious.
Interesting, but unrelated to the contents: the US version has a red cover while the UK one went for yellow, which is an intriguing change. You don’t see so many yellow book covers around so it certainly made it striking and I wonder if perhaps it is something like the whole yellow poster for indie films thing?