One of the fastest-growing literary trends is what might be termed ‘pathobiography’, the sufferers’ own detailed and highly personal description of some disease, accident or affiiction that they have sustained and which more often than not has changed their lives. In recent years we have had best-selling accounts of breast cancer (Ruth Picardie), manic depression (Kay Jamieson), throat cancer (John Diamond), postnatal depression (Fiona Shaw), brain haemorrhage and paralysis (Jean-Dominique Bauby) and Aids (Harold Brodkey). There is a fairly familiar pattern: illness striking an otherwise healthy and reasonably successful individual; his/her responses of bewilderment, anger, denial; a considerable reluctance/inability/disinclination on the part of the doctors to communicate; a period of despair followed by a remorseless coming to terms with the nitty-gritty of the particular disorder; the presence of a loving, constant and enduring partner; and, even in the case of a fatal disease, a triumphant assertion of the human spirit and the defeat of disease and death itself.
Robert McCrum’s account of the massive stroke he suffered at the age of forty-two is a particularly fine addition to the field. A highly successful journalist and fiction writer, he was newly married and ignorant not merely of the realities of a stroke but also of the savage mauling that