Posted by: Ele Quigan | May 15, 2010

‘I know this much is true’ Wally Lamb

A behemoth of a book, I had seen this sitting on shelves and in top 50 lists for years and years.  It sits as a weighty tome, ominously waiting for someone to pick it up, and delve into it’s content – some unable to finish or some taking months due to it’s large size.

For some reason – I’d always stayed away from it, not that I have a fear of large novels (except for War and Peace – to finish that has been my new years resolution for about the last 8 years…) but more of the portability and comfortability of such a book.  I do most of my reading in bed – reading on one side with such a heavy book can occasionally become painful, particularly as I find myself reading to all hours of the night sometimes just to get to the end.

It wasn’t till a friend recommended it that I decided to buy it.

The story premise is far from simple, it is lead by an angry protagonist who has a twin brother with schizophrenia.  I could explain the plot, and how it works, and how it centres on a single family and intertwines through generations, and about how you can love and hate someone at the same time, and the explosive weight of guilt and emotions that are suppressed and not handled – but I don’t think that’d the point of a review is it – I am ascertaining whether it’s something i’d recommend?  And actually it is.

Mental illness is a tough subject for anyone.  Be it things such as anorexia, depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders – it is difficult to find people who haven’t been touched by it – either facing something themselves, or helping or seeing friends and family with conditions.

Part of the novel explores the descent into schizophrenia, and to a point opens up the chemical vs upbringing and surroundings debate.  I was intrigued by the overt honesty within it – the frustration and stress of carrying someone who is unwell, the almost sense of relief when they are hospitalized.  People in these situations take a lot on, promising to themselves and others that they are responsible for the person, to keep them from harming themselves, of helping pick up the pieces every time something occurs.  There an also be an element of resentment that is created by this – from the constant stress and attention that is focussed on the other person, and the wish for some kind of normality.

I think that’s what struck me the most about this book, things that you could never bring yourself to admit in a situation like that are brought to the surface, those poisonous thoughts and anger are spat out for all to see.  It’s raw and brutal, and feel like an emotional rollercoaster at times, and I felt the anger and frustration, and occasionally remembering some of my own experiences felt like directing it towards myself.

However within the hate and anger there is a thread of forgiveness running through – how to be at peace, and acknowledge what your own demons are  – and no matter what history there is, no matter how much time has past – you still have the ability to forgive.

It didn’t feel like 900 pages, but the pain and suffering held within it makes it feel far more weighty.  I’m not sure if I could have the emotional power to sit through it again, but it is beautifully written – while slightly predictable at times – the power of story telling and the interweaving threads of history definitely draws you to feel like you’re more than an outsider reading in.

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