Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (2012). Cahalan is a New York Post journalist who contracted a rare form of encephalitis which induced a period of mental illness. This book is her account of that time, reconstructed largely from secondary sources (Cahalan having been left with few memories of her illness). It’s an interesting story, ranging from the development of Cahalan’s symptoms, through her eventual diagnosis, to her trying to understand the illness as she recovers.
Anouk Markovits, I Am Forbidden (2012). A novel chronicling fifty years in the lives of a Jewish family, beginning in a Hasidic community in Transylvania, and moving through Paris and England, and ending in New York. I appreciate its careful portrait of the pressures faced by its characters when their wishes clash with law and tradition; but I did find the book hard to engage with at times, and its latter stages felt overly compressed.
Bianca Zander, The Girl Below (2012). Suki returns to London after living in New Zealand for ten years, and finds herself out of place in even the most familiar surroundings. The job of minding an old friend’s teenage son gives Suki a chance to find her bearings once again – but she keeps having visions of her childhood, and an incident in an old air-raid shelter in the garden. That adds an intriguing and unexpected extra dimension to the story of Suki’s finding her place.
Hugh Aldersey-Wlliams, Anatomies (2013). I loved the idea of this book: a tour of the human body, taking in art and culture as well as science. It packs a lot in, from historical attempts to depict the body, to the physicality of dancing, to Shakespeare’s anatomical idioms. There is a lot of interesting material, but ultimately I think the book is that bit too diffuse: some chapters wander a little too far away from their named subject; some sections I just wish were longer. As a whole, Anatomies is okay, but it could do with more focus.