Sunday, 1 July 2012

94/111 - The Guardians by Sarah Manguso

I bought this book yesterday and I have already finished it. It's only about 100 pages long, so it's not too drastic to have read the whole thing in one day, but this was easy.

I had read about this book on the Granta website, and I was expecting it to be in the fiction section for some reason. I spent ages in Waterstones looking for it in fiction, the new books, the hardbacks, with no luck. Then it occurred to me that it must be in the biography section, as the book seemed to be based on the author's life. It was there.

The book is about Sarah and her relationship with her friend Harris, and about the grieving process she goes through after he escapes from a locked mental health ward and throws himself in front of a train. She reflects back on the time they spent together as friends, on the year following his death and the year just before his death, as well as the first year of her marriage with her husband.

In pretty heavy contrast to Neverland, this is a book which used seemingly disparate passages and vignettes really well, and the result was moving and emotional. Very bare and sparse, and brave.

I guess I'm pretty fortunate at this stage in my life that no one really close to me has died, and definitely not under such tragic circumstances. For now, the most important people in my life are untouched by disease and disaster. All the same, I was stunned by the grief that she expresses in the loss of her friend. I was even jealous of it, a little. Is there anyone who would feel that way if I died? Do I have a link as strong as that with anyone on this earth?

Of course, the answer is yes, but the way she expresses it is so crisp and startling, like biting into a lemon. That sounds stupid but that's how it made me feel. I loved the way she talks about the hole left in her life, and her speculations of what he must have been thinking for during the last ten unaccounted-for hours of his life.

One of the things she touches on periodically throughout the book is the possibility that Harris was suffering from a side effect of some anti-psychotic medication which caused him to finally commit suicide. Akathisia is described as an unbearable restlessness and inner tension, described by some as a sort of inner torture resulting from the medication. One of the haunting images that she keeps going back to is this image of Harris being administered this medication in order to alleviate his psychosis and subsequently becoming overwhelmed by the need to move around, which caused him to elope from the hospital and walk around for ten hours until he can't bear it anymore, and he throws himself in front of a train.

Really haunting, and really enjoyable.

Next: Them by Jon Ronson

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