Book Review: Parasite

BookReviewLogoReview by Janette Edson

“Choose life. Choose Health. Choose SymboGen.”

Mira Grant (a pen name for American urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire) had her breakthrough with the three-part zombie series Newsflesh. She returns with the Parasitology series, starting with Parasite (Hatchette, 2013). And what a way to open the series, with a story that is combination of sleek corporate thriller and mind bending science. As a horror junkie obsessed with the most disgusting parasites, bugs and disease Grant’s new series, while a departure from her previous work, reflects of these passions.

13641105The story begins in 2027, and centres around Sally, who has miraculously recovered from a car accident that left her brain dead. Why has Sally recovered? Well it’s thanks to a tapeworm. Not any tapeworm, a worm that has been engineered so that instead of damaging its host heals and protects that individual.  The company SymboGen has developed this tapeworm that means you never need to worry about illness or medication again. SymboGen of course, has become a giant corporation, and nearly everyone on the planet who can afford a tapeworm has one. Continue reading “Book Review: Parasite”

Book Review: Rivers of London

BookReviewLogoRivers of London (retitled Midnight Riot in the US) is the first of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books, a Pratchettian gambol through a London where magic is real and genus locii more lively than you might think. If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, you might recognize Aaronovitch’s name as the writer of Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, both stand-out episodes for the seventh Doctor.

9317452Rivers of London opens with PC Peter Grant on the beat with his fellow PC, Lesley May, and a murder. Grant and May are both nearing the end of their probationary periods as constables with the London Metropolitan police force, awaiting their permanent assignments to units within the Met. Lesley is confident of ending up somewhere she wants to be; Peter, particularly after he finds himself interviewing a ghost at the scene of the murder, less so. After his supernatural encounter, Peter is seconded to DCI Thomas Nightingale, the sole remaining practitioner of magic with the Met and sole resident of the Folly, the home of magic in London.

After that, things get odd.

The story is told by Peter who is quick, clever, and canny but by no means omnipotent or omniscient; the fallibility of his voice is refreshing, bringing the reader into closer sympathy with him. The murder mystery quickly turns dark as the deaths mount up; Aaronovitch has put thought into his system of magic and it is not without severe consequences for misuse or abuse. Alongside Peter, Lesley, and Nightingale, Aaronovitch has created a vivid and compelling cast of secondary characters, including the eponymous rivers, several ghosts, a lively terrier, and Nightingale’s housekeeper who is probably not as human as she appears to be.

Aaronovitch comes as close as any comic fantasy writer I know of to creating a world as involving, as frightening, and as funny as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. And if you enjoy the first, there are currently five more titles in the series to immerse yourself in during the next summer heatwave.

Book Review: Wizard of the Crow

BookReviewLogoNgũgĩ wa Thiong´o´s tenth novel is a web of genres: A serendipitous persiflage of political narratives, a fantasy novel bordering on realism, and a love story about emancipation from patriarchy, capitalism and neocolonialism. It is also a novel about illness.

The story is set in the fictional Free Republic of Aburĩria on the African continent, whose autocratic Ruler came to power by violently building on the anti-Communist agenda of the West. In a post-colonial and post-Cold War environment, he struggles to keep his power among a shifting and weakening legitimacy. The Ruler´s struggle takes hold of his body through an illness, readily identified and patented for monetary gain by American medical professionals as SIE – Self Induced Expansion. His aides – three men proving their loyalty through body enhancements of eyes, ears, and mouth – face the limitation of Western medicine in New York City and call back home for help: the Wizard of the Crow is ordered to heal the Ruler. Continue reading “Book Review: Wizard of the Crow”

The Literary Remedy: Therapeutic Creative Writing

fictionreboot2Today’s Friday Fiction features the work of Sharon Dempsey, a journalist and author who facilitates writing workshops for those affected by illness. In her work today, she shares how writing becomes an act of patient empowerment, fiction serving as a voice and a means of controlling and absorbing the chaos of illness.

medhum Fiction|Guest Post By Sharon Dempsey

Medicine, in essence, is a transaction of stories. The patient’s telling of symptoms, the interpretation of evidence and investigation on the part of medic, is the basis of the diagnosis process.

To seek expression out of illness is a natural reaction, yet the power of story is not fully harnessed in medicine. Health and disease are concerned with life and death, and are closely connected to the physical, social, psychological and spiritual nature of humans. So often we have focused on cure over care. Narrative medicine seeks to redress this imbalance.

My personal interest lies in the the relationship between story and medicine: to look at how we use narrative in illness and to how we might use creative writing and literature as an effective means of communicating, to help voice the concerns of the patient, and to help the physician to understand the impact of lived experience of illness. When patients take ownership of their illness narrative and are active in seeking the information they need, they gain greater insight into how they can best make decisions regarding their treatment. In short, to understand and speak about their illness experience is to be empowered in the face of illness and mortality. Research has shown that writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events can be beneficial for both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical settings. To tell a story is a most human transaction.

My awareness of this relationship between literature and writing to illness and medicine came through personal experience: in caring for my son Owen who was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumor at the age of two. Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Owen died when he was six. I found solace in writing and reading. My experience of grief and bereavement led me to see a direct correlation between my ability to cope with what I was reading and how I was able to express my grief through writing.

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Cancer Focus Workshop

Part of my work now, twelve years after Owen’s death, involves designing and facilitating therapeutic creative writing workshops for patients affected by cancer. Delivering the workshops has reaffirmed my belief that writing and reading literature generates a sense of well-being and helps the participants to deal with the emotional repercussions of cancer.

Being part of a creative writing group has many benefits. Through writing, participants can take control of their illness and process the changes that the illness and treatment has made to their lives. This is what the illness narrative is about: the writer can find expression for emotions and feelings, and this in turn allows them to feel validated, to be understood and to gain self awareness, while providing a platform to share with other like-minded people.

Gary Hunter, a participant of our workshops, states that they enable him, “to articulate feelings that might otherwise remain unexpressed”–

“In a way, writing gives me back a modicum of control over my situation and helps me deal with my diagnosis and the effects of living with cancer. I have a creative outlet for my frustration, uncertainty and anger,” he said.

After a workshop, Gary felt “a sense of achievement, especially when [his] work has been enjoyed and praised”; Moreover, the workshops provided him “an excellent and welcome forum for expressing one’s feelings and concerns in a secure, confidential and non-judgmental environment, in the company of people who understand the cancer experience.” Through his fiction and memoir writing,  Gary has explored cancer’s impact on relationships, self-image, faith and even the loss of faith. Other participants have shared that the workshops offer healing, empathy, release, inspiration, validation and empowerment.

The monthly workshops that I facilitate are run by a charity called Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, and provide an opportunity to reflect on personal experience in a safe, supportive environment. We state that no previous writing experience is required, and the workshops are open to relatives and carers of those affected by cancer, too. Illness never affects only the patient, even though  illness narrative is often the expression of the patient’s lived experience of illness. Through communicating illness, the patient (and their families and perhaps even their doctors) gains a sense of control, finds comfort in expression and consolation in being heard. This sense of seeking clarity and meaning through writing is present in my creative writing workshops, even though cancer is not the primary focus of our writing. We have explored memoir, flash fiction, poetry, script writing, journal writing, and nature writing and we are about to embark on a genre series starting with crime writing. The act of creating and writing is more important than the subject, yet themes and set exercises provide a structure to conduct the writing. Our work is a means to an end in itself – our creative self- expression. Yet I can see there is much to be gained for physicians and carers, too, as they witness the power of storytelling in action.

As writers, the patients can bring order to their world. They can employ creativity, punctuation, grammar, structure and format to a world of confusion, emotional turmoil and often sadness. Twelve years after my son’s death, I still write for him and about him. It’s my treatment.  In facilitating and participating  workshops, I have recognized the value of humanizing the medical experience, and honoring the shared story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sharon Dempsey is a journalist, health writer and creative writing facilitator based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Follow @svjdempz