Bestselling Author John Connolly’s Latest Novel Features Girl with ME/CFS
“I know some people with ME, and tried hard to get it right.”
If like me you are a fan of thrillers – especially ones with a more than the unusual twist – then you probably don’t need me to introduce the almost legendary work of Irish-born John Connolly, and his stalwart hero, detective Charlie Parker.
But, I think it is an important development when we come across such a renowned author choosing to include ME/CFS as an illness within their work. Indeed I am left wondering if this is the first occasion such a thing has occurred and if it might indicate an increased level of acceptance as to the legitimacy and seriousness of our disease.
In Connolly’s latest novel A Song of Shadows our hero is nursing his wounds and recuperating in a rented house next door to nine year old Amanda and her mother:
“Amanda Winter often dreamed: strange, fevered visions, filled with confusion and dislocation. It was why the dream of the girl on the sand hadn’t disturbed her more, for she’d had worse. Had she been older, she might have understood it as a function of the headaches and muscle pains that she experienced. Sometimes her mother would give her half a sleeping pill to help her drift off, especially if her condition had been particularly bad for a couple of nights.
Her illness had a name – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or more commonly myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME – but one of the pupils in her old school, a girl named Laurie Bryden, had claimed that ME wasn’t really an illness at all. She’d heard her father say so. Her father said it was just something that lazy people used as an excuse not to get off their asses and work or, in the case of someone like Amanda, as a means of getting away with low grades because she was really kind of dumb. It had taken all of Amanda’s willpower not to sock Laurie Bryden in the jaw and knock her flat on her back, but what good would have come of it anyway?
Amanda hated being sick. She hated being tired. She hated waking up and wondering if today was going to be a good day or a bad day. On good days, she would sometimes try to do too much, with the result that the bad days to follow were so much worse. She hated the low-level headache that always seemed to throb in her· skull, and how long it took her to recover from colds and infections. She hated the night sweats and the weird pains and the tenderness in her armpits…”
I have been a fan of Connolly’s for as long as I have had ME; indeed it is because of my illness that reading is now largely confined to novels. I find reading a novel – no matter if it is a page or a chapter – much more relaxing and conducive to any illness management than meditation or other forms of relaxation therapy (which I have never been able to adhere to for very long). In fact I would say that novels have at various times throughout this illness helped me cope specifically with sleep and cognitive problems – often bringing me to a place where I was better able to function.
But when I reached this latest chapter – obtained from my local library (sorry about that John but needs must and all that) – I happened to be sat on the lavvie. So imagine for a moment my shock when Amanda turned out not only to have ME but also that Connolly had focused on that aspect of ME – sleep problems and vivid dreams – which I would rate as one of my most difficult to accommodate symptoms. I simply cannot wait to see how the plot develops and for once bedtime cannot come soon enough.
I reached out to John Connolly on Twitter to thank him for featuring a patient with ME in such a clearly well-researched way. He tweeted back, “Very kind of you to say. I know some people with ME, and tried hard to get it right.”
A Song of Shadows is currently available in the UK and will be released in the USA on 29th September 2015.
Russell Fleming @Firestormmer