[495]: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

DSC_1006 GOODREADS SUMMARY | Simon & Schuster | Hardcover, 620 pages | August 19th, 2014 | Adult Fiction | Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Have you ever witnessed a brilliant mind go to waste?
A slow leaking sludge that muddles what once looked like a beautiful landscape?
Have you ever seen fireworks in the deluge of rain?
Colourful sparks lost in their watery grave.

– Joyousreads

I’ve read books about cancer. I’ve read books about depression. I’ve read people suffer depression brought on by cancer. I’ve read books about deaths and suicide. Each one remarkably  heartbreaking than the last. But there is nothing sadder than witnessing a person slowly diminish into someone unrecognizable. Someone who was once full of life and wit and intelligence until all that’s left of him is a glazed look punctuated by unknowing blinks. Alive, but barely; conscious, but hardly responsive. Edward Leary was once a brilliant scientist. A man who could’ve taught at Columbia or Brown, but have decided – against his wife’s wishes, no less – that he would rather teach at a Bronx Community College. Before his life-long career of teaching, he did extensive research in – ironically enough – Neurology.

Majority of this book was about his life as seen through the eyes of his wife, Eileen and his son, Connell.  The practical, insouciant husband and the doting, devoted father. Until he was no longer.

Halfway through the book, I started to question why I was slogging through chapters upon chapters of a woman’s boring life. I’ve even entertained stopping altogether. There is nothing worse than reading long narratives about someone’s nuanced life; until it slowly dawned on me why Thomas felt the need to divulge gratuitously. Because it was the only way the readers would see how a person’s mind disintegrate into a wasteland. What started out as a man who seemed to have lost his zest for life; someone depressed, or going through a mid-life crisis, was actually a preamble to something more permanent and incurable.

It is a languid account of their lives; a biographical narration spanning years of banalities until the encroachment of a disease steers the novel on to darker routes.

Aptly enough, this book was told in a morosely calm manner. Even more so as the author show Edward’s slow submission to the disease.  It also shows Eileen’s hardships as she tries to anticipate all of Edward’s needs while financially trying to provide for the family’s livelihood. The readers would not be able to resist looking at Connell with judgmental eyes as he failed to support  his struggling mother. Conversely, we see Eileen take up a brief affair with a man she hired as Ed’s caregiver, but you’ll be hard pressed to look at her with the same judgement as you would, Connell. Because her life had become endless days of lonely wariness. There will be a large part of you that couldn’t help but sympathize. And you will end up forgiving her, no matter what. Because for all the sacrifices she’d done, she still deserved happiness, even temporary.

This is the type of novel that doesn’t show its true goodness straightaway. You have to be patient. Heck, this book took 10 years to write. It is only fair to give it a chance. Matthew Thomas showed incredible restraints in not rushing through years of stilted narrative. And it shows. We Are Not Ourselves is a labor of love; one that paints a heartbreaking picture of what it’s like to slowly lose the very foundation of who you are.

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