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Metamorphosis: A Life in Pieces

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After his transplant, he would need to remain in an antiseptic bubble until his body started to repair itself with the help of his new stem cells. His books include Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist , which won the Duff Cooper Prize, and The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland , which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, and The Turning Point: A Year that Changed Dickens and the World . We use Google Analytics to see what pages are most visited, and where in the world visitors are visiting from. Perhaps reading shouldn't be thought of as a way of avoiding [our] problems, but rather as an invitation to look at them through fresh eyes.

In his lovely, book-lined room in Magdalen College, Oxford – open a window, and you may hear the sound of a deer coughing in the mist – Douglas-Fairhurst, a fiftysomething professor of English whose studies of Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens have won literary prizes, and who has acted as the historical consultant on, among other productions, the TV series Dickensian and the Enola Holmesfilms, gamely waves an ankle at me. The last thing you want is well-intentioned but unhelpful advice, when everyone becomes Google doctor. It persuasively builds the case for the ability of stories to offer hope and solace; to help us become ourselves, over and over, even in extremis. M, too, was sanguine about what might lie ahead – Douglas-Fairhurst carefully outlined a series of increasingly grim scenarios, beginning with whether M would be willing to cut his toenails for him – and he was also funny about it, ready to take the piss. We are experiencing delays with deliveries to many countries, but in most cases local services have now resumed.And part of the agenda here, no doubt, is to make readers just a little more aware of MS (which clearly has a history of misrepresentation) - whichever passport they currently hold. This ought to be a very depressing book since it describes the onset and development of multiple sclerosis in an Oxford don. Above all, he discovered the brilliant naturalist Bruce Cummings, whose book The Journal of a Disappointed Man, published under the pseudonym WNP Barbellion in 1919, becomes a parallel text here, with generous quotations from its diary entries and a heartfelt account of the author’s life.

A series of boxes had to be ticked – involving MRI scans and a lumbar puncture – before he was accepted for treatment. The book ought to be gruelling and it doesn’t shrink from candour about the trials of MS – the pain, anxiety, shame and self-pity, and the thoughts of ending them at Dignitas. This is a beautifully written memoir- the story of a devastating diagnosis but it is so much more than that. Written by an entertaining storyteller and offers a rare insight into a situation that few people will have to face, but that it does us good to contemplate.When a trapdoor opened in Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s life – the abrupt diagnosis, in his 40s, of multiple sclerosis – he couldn’t help thinking of Gregor in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a young man who’s changed into a giant beetle, imprisoned in bed, legs waving feebly in the air. Words stop working, and it is hard to make a joke when one is afraid of making some ghastly breach of taste, like farting in church. Makes you appreciate that having a curious intellect is vital if you are to lead a happy life when your physical strength and mobility is so restricted. It allows you a critical vantage point, enabling you to understand the illness from the inside and the outside simultaneously. It really is time that there is a concerted effort by the NHS to level up diagnosis, care and the longer-term options.

His books include Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, which won the Duff Cooper Prize, and The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, and The Turning Point: A Year that Changed Dickens and the World. On that day, a neurologist briskly explained to him that his recent MRI scan had revealed the existence of lesions on his spine and brain that were almost certainly the result of MS, and in that moment – whoosh!

While this book deals with distress, physical pain and uncertainty, its wry humour and lightness of touch make it anything but a misery memoir. Biography: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Magdalen College. Reading', he suggests, 'allows us to work out who we are by imagining who else we might have been, or who we might yet become. Radio and television appearances include Start the Week and The Culture Show , and he has also acted as the historical consultant on TV adaptations of Jane Eyre , Emma , Great Expectations , the BBC drama series Dickensian , and the feature film Enola Holmes . It was a shuffling in his legs that had made Douglas-Fairhurst seek medical advice – and now a neurologist confirmed the worst.

Elsewhere the giggles bubble up from fantastical figurative language, comparable to Dickens’ zany similes and metaphors. In essence, it is a way of rebooting the body’s faulty immune system, like a computer being turned on and off again.Metamorphosis is the best book I have read about multiple sclerosis, and that is because it is about so much more. The author is clearly living in an area of the UK where comprehensive services, ranging from Physio to umpteen neurologists and the opportuntity to take part in stem cell therapy are an option. Since then, one drug has been approved by Nice [the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence], albeit not a very effective one.

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