I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Unmapped Mind: A Memoir of Neurology, Incurable Disease and Learning How To Live by Christian Donlan
Published by Viking on 5th April 2018
"My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed - a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too embarrassed to tell anybody about it."
Shortly after his daughter Leontine was born, Christian Donlan's world shifted an inch to the left. He started to miss light switches and door handles when reaching for them. He would injure himself in a hundred stupid ways every day. First playful and then maddening, these strange experiences were the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative neurological disease.
As his young daughter starts to investigate the world around her, he too finds himself exploring a new landscape - the shifting and bewildering territory of the brain. He is a tourist in his own body, a stranger in a place that plays bizarre tricks on him, from dizzying double vision to mystifying memory loss. Determined to master his new environment, Christian takes us on a fascinating and illuminating journey: through the history of neurology, the joys and anxieties of parenthood, and the ultimate realisation of what, after everything you take for granted has been stripped away from you, is truly important in life.
I enjoy the odd memoir and the description of this particular title grasped my attention. Probably for a variety of reasons 1) my Mum and my Aunt have MS 2) I have my own illness which requires a constant battle of learning how to live and 3) I wanted to learn more about the neurology of MS.
Before I started I must admit I’d no idea who Christian Donlan was, so I’d no idea what to expect in terms of writing – wow this man can write! It turns out he’s an award-winning journalist, I can see why. From the first paragraph, I was hooked. You might look at the title of this book and worry that it’ll be a bit heavy-going. Fear not, Donlan’s writing style is absorbing, he makes the ‘technical’ stuff easy to read. Most of all, it’s like sitting down in a room with a friend, chatting. That’s really the best way I can describe this book. Donlan’s writing and his turn of phrase is a delight – subject matter aside.
Donlan shares with us his journey as a thirty-something husband and new father as he discovers that he has MS.
But it’s more than just his story. We learn about neurology and MS itself. Donlan tells the story of his own illness but also educates the reader on the scope, variety, and stages of MS. As I said, my Mum has MS so I have an understanding of the disease, but Mum’s symptoms are largely different from Donlan’s. I knew this could happen, as everyone’s MS is different, but reading about further symptoms and challenges outwith my own, narrow field of vision was illuminating.
Likewise illuminating, inspiring-even is Donlan’s incredible honesty within these pages. As a reader, I felt Donlan was completely open and honest, even when it perhaps might not reflect so well on him. I applaud his bravery and openness.
From my own personal perspective, Donlan’s processing of his diagnosis was, I guess, reassuring. I could relate so much to that realisation that your life isn’t going to be quite like you had envisioned. In fact, I rarely highlight text when I’m reading but there was much of this book that spoke to me, that I felt was worth noting and remembering.
Donlan’s exploration of his relationships with those around him was a further area of great interest to me. It made me consider differing perspectives, not only how hard diagnosis and illness can be on the patient but on those around them too.
I fear I’ve rambled on a bit here, jumping all over – apologies. There is just so much to this book – a glimpse into a family at a turning point in their lives, the honesty, the impressive writing, the informative and educational side. Donlan lets us into his world and I guarantee that everyone will find something to take away from this book.