Orwell’s Cough by John Ross (book review)

04/02/2013 § Leave a comment

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A collection of medically focused mini-biographies of literary greats, most of who are connected by acquaintance and shared ailments. Although comprising some occasionally tenuous theories, Orwell’s Cough is fascinating whether you’re interested in literary or clinical history. It details the development of medicine via profiles of prolific authors plagued by the signature illnesses of bygone creative minds; mental disorder and venereal disease. From a collection of well researched essays Ross has put together a sinuous and gritty read that will enable you to see the writers of your favourite works (and their doctors) in a new, and not altogether flattering, light.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Book Review)

15/02/2012 § Leave a comment

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer on a ‘black ward’ in Baltimore. But her cells lived on. Taken at a time when consent wasn’t required by law Henrietta’s cells, named HeLa, were the first to become immortal in culture. Trillions were produced, helping scientists develop vaccines, cures and millions of dollars. HeLa’s development is paralleled with the hitherto largely unknown woman behind the medicine and the young family she left behind. Scientific elements are explained well and the Lacks’ are elaborately characterised, enamouring the reader to their plight. Despite some overzealous fictionalisations and an author who insists on edifying the reader of her own ingenuity, this book is a great human interest read.

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso (Book Review)

05/09/2011 § Leave a comment

This memoir of child abuse that doubles up as a deranged love story begins when Margaux was 7 and her molester, Peter, was 51. The writing style is tainted by the victim’s own numbness and detachment, resulting in some inelegant over-narration. This instils the intrusive sense of reading someone else’s diary. Tiger, Tiger is an education in child maltreatment and manipulation that is perversely engaging despite, or perhaps because of, some moments that are truly difficult to read. Purposefully controversialist, this book is worth the few hours it takes to read for those whose curiosity gets the better of them.

My Friend Leonard by James Frey (Book Review)

25/07/2011 § Leave a comment

The follow up to Frey’s first successful and controversial quasi-memoir sees him dealing with life and death after rehab, guided by his gangster guardian and friend, Leonard.  Those who have read the first instalment will already know the fates of the characters who endure to the second. However, this does not detract from the poetically written, heart wrenching narrative. Less deconstructed language and reduced involvement in addiction sets this story free to centre upon James’ relationship with his outlandish and lovable friend. Tragedy and satire are combined brilliantly in a story that is to biographies what Picasso is to portraits.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey Review

05/07/2011 § Leave a comment

James Frey’s memoir describes his odyssey through a notable American rehabilitation centre after hitting rock bottom as a crack addict. The author’s thoughts tumble onto the page unhampered by grammatical rules, blurring the line between his thoughts and actions and reflective of his chaotic mental state. This hard hitting book is not for the faint hearted; the narrative is permeated with harrowing and sometimes gruesome scenes, necessary to the book’s raw and brutally honest portrayal of lifelong addiction. A Million Little Pieces is immensely rewarding, and all the more affective for being based on a true journey.

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain Review

07/06/2011 § Leave a comment

*As featured in Stylist Magazine*

Following on from the highly successful and controversial biography Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw peppers choice episodes from Bourdain’s past with observational analysis of the food world in the present. Characteristically pessimistic advice for wannabe chefs is sandwiched between accounts of illegal secret banquets and boozing with the Gadaffis on a Caribbean Yacht. The writing style is hysterical: sardonic musings on a food industry in financial crisis are related in the style of an x-rated Eeyore. Those anticipating a diluted sequel, fear not. Humour drier than a Sauvignon Blanc is blended with derisive insightfulness to give this biography a real bite.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen Review

28/05/2011 § Leave a comment

This is a firsthand account of a girl’s experience of being entombed within the American mental health system.  Girl, Interrupted is an autobiography that reads like a novel, which immerses the reader in a world where the astoundingly abnormal is accepted with sardonic insightfulness.  Kaysen describes her descent into madness with a punchy wit; consistently ignoring her own lunacies in favour of observing those of others. As each character is dissected, the reader becomes aware of their own disquieting fascination with the insane. This book will make you consider your own mental state, and you’ll have fun along the way.

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