Shelf Indulgence is a book column from award-winning novelist, A.D. Garrett, who recommends two books per month across a range of styles and genres, and a mixture of new and old.
MYSTIC RIVER, by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane has it all: elegant prose and gripping action; he can create a memorable character with a few strokes of the pen; his dialogue can make you laugh out loud, or it can flood you with emotion that grabs you by the throat and will not let go.
With Mystic River Lehane is at the height of his powers. He understands what violence does to victims and those who investigate it; he has the skill and courage to make his readers feel, but he never confuses sentiment with sentimentality. He builds tension till it crackles like static before a storm, yet you never get the sense that he is using writerly tricks. In Lehane’s writing the aftermath of violent crime doesn’t merely extend for weeks or months, but for an entire lifetime. He writes about loving families and destructive families, and the effect that the one can have on the other. Mystic River is his best to date.
HALLUCINATIONS, by Oliver Sacks
Picador, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-1447208266
Covering aspects as diverse as epileptic seizures and Out of Body experiences, through to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology, turns his exceptional eye on the phenomenon of hallucinations. Far from being the exclusive province of the disordered mind, Sacks describes hallucinations as ‘an essential part of human experience’. Most of us hallucinate at some time or other: the voice we hear, calling our name in an empty house; the feeling of being watched, but turning, find that we are entirely alone. Sacks even describes his own experiences of drug- and fever-induced hallucinations.
His intense curiosity about all neurological phenomena, from the mundane to the frighteningly bizarre, is always moderated by compassion and respect. He is a pitch-perfect communicator, making science accessible to the lay reader, while including new research into important areas such as the treatment of ‘phantom limb’ disorder.
Hallucinations is studded with gorgeous gems, such as the ‘autoscopic double’, experienced by such historical figures as Linnaeus and Guy de Maupassant – who saw mirror images of themselves, doing everyday things: sitting in a chair, picking a flower. It is common knowledge that Charles Darwin was pushed into publishing On the Origin of Species after receiving a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, outlining his theory of natural selection. But how many would know that Wallace’s version of the theory was conceived during the delirium of malarial fever?
Sacks once said the brain ‘is the most incredible thing in the universe’. This highly recommended book is all the proof you need.
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