In a very lopsided book swap, I ended up with a lovely new copy of Nasim Marie Jafry's The State of Me, and she got and old yellowed copy of Le Scaphandre et le Papillon.
I've been reading Nasim's blog for a while now, but I hadn't got round to reading her book. The State of Me tells the story of Helen Fleet, a young Scottish woman (like me!) who studies French at university (like me!) in the early eighties (like me!). Helen comes to France to do her year abroad (like me!) and develops ME (like Nasim herself).
You may (like me) be afraid of reading illness narratives because you suspect you are going to embark on an unhappy medical self-pity fest. Have no fear, there is no self-pity in The State of Me but there is lots of humour and lots of acute observation. Nasim writes in spare, measured sentences. The effort is contained and elegant as if the author had to calculate each word, the length of each paragraph before attempting it. The admirable style is underpinned by an indominitable sense of humour and an unfailing eye for the ridiculous. I smiled a lot, both at the wittiness and at the recognition of idiosyncratic places and practices in 80s Scotland. And there is romance too.
I obviously learned a lot about the illness ME, because although not exactly a non-believer, I simply didn't understand how debilitating it is or how much more complicated it is than simple chronic fatigue. The dialogues with the ignorant stranger were enlightening and perhaps they'll help me to be more sensitive and avoid trite comments next time I speak to someone with ME.