I’m glad I did. I wish I hadn’t.
It’s a difficult book, almost without paragraph breaks, slipping centuries with little warning, and wild with words I’ve never run across in sentences as complex as consciousness itself.
The novel ends as Busner, a psychiatrist who for a short time rehabilitated a set of patients who had suffered from encephalitis lethargica for decades, reflects on his personal limitations. It all comes back to his brother:
“Colonel Blink sees clearly the vestibule fashioned from a mere fifteen feet of the old hospital corridor: those aren’t Barbour jackets hanging from the pegs but . . . bodies . . . the corpse of his schizophrenic brother, Henry, who committed suicide at fifty-two, after thirty years as an inmate of psychiatric hospitals . . . I visited him — but never enough.”
Audrey, the patient for whom he had the most hope, having fallen back into her troubled state, now appears as an umbrella: “her neck, gripped in the kyphotic vice of her extreme old age, curves up and over into a hook, so that levelled at him is its very blunt and accusatory end.”
The novel will trouble me till my last days. It gets at my deepest fears — that I will forget the brother whom I largely abandoned when he was alive and that my grown children suffer while I go on with my selfish life.