Customer Review

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sharp and witty account of a serious subject, 28 July 2008
This review is from: The State of Me (Paperback)
This is the story of Helen Fleet. Young, bright, witty and fun, she has all her life before her. And a boyfriend to die for. Then, when in France as part of her degree course, she is first struck down by a mystery virus which leaves her weak, ill and practically bed-ridden for years and suffering many unpleasant side effects such as nausea, cramps and headaches. An eventual diagnosis hardly helps. M.E. has not long been recognised as a serious illness by the medical authorities and even now there are health professionals who still persist in thinking it's all in the mind. Not only does she have to cope with her illness she has to face day to day ignorance, prejudice and even downright hostility. Helen is soon judging friends, relatives and passing strangers by how they react to her condition. We follow Helen as she is dragged to rock-bottom, living off her parents, invalidity benefits and the 'charity' of friends. Even her boyfriend finds it tough to cope with her paranoia,fits of anger and self-pity and although they agree to remain friends, she has to suffer in silent jealousy as he has sex with other girls, either in reality or in her own impotent jealousy.

If this sounds heavy-going or dull, think again. This book is a delight from start to finish. The 'serious' side of the novel - the day-to-day reality of dealing with M.E. is tempered by Helen's self- deprecating sense of humour which had me giggling on almost every page. Her writing is fresh, sharp and stuffed full of delicious observations about human behaviour. The 'Scottishness' of the setting, with its unique slang and way of looking at things is a definite plus point, as is the variety of narrative styles the author uses.

There is no doubt whatsoever that we are in the presence of a natural born writer here who knows how to shape a phrase with skillful ease. There is nothing forced or over-written. Some of my favourite characters were not part of the medical story. I particularly loved her uncle Brian. I know quite a few adults with 'learning difficulties', as we are supposed to call them these days, and Nasim's affectionate portrayal is amusing without being in the least patronising.

If I have a criticism - and THE STATE OF ME is by no means perfect - it is because it's not really a novel and I wish it hadn't been marketed as such. It is a fictionalised memoir. Although Helen is clearly not Nasim, Helen's journey learning to live with M.E must be Nasim's as must her observations and her attitude to the reaction of others. There is no plot as such and although there is a sense of narrative drive and a 'feel-good' ending (but not unalloyed happiness), it doesn't really go anywhere in the same way as a diary can't be planned or shaped because its very nature prevents it and it can only record events as they happen. That's not to say that the pages didn't keep turning. They did and I always wanted to discover 'what happened next.'

With its quirky humour and lightness of touch THE STATE OF ME is a pleasure to read.
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