The complexity of life and death. Henry Marsh, neurosurgeon, has kept a suicide kit he’s had for years.
To consider it for a whole year and attempt to write about it as a black comedy is a real challenge that local author, business woman and mum Lisa Greener, writing under the pen name Lisa J Rivers has taken. Lisa’s first novel Winding Down, covers similar ground to Henry’s autobiography except Lisa’s protagonist, Samantha is a working class woman in an abusive marriage. Samantha, though, like Henry, can’t do anything right and her novel is about Winding Down and leaving everyone and everything.
For Henry Marsh, realising that he has less authority, that surgeons spend less and less time working because of increasing bureaucratic encroachments on their professional authority, make him feel similarly powerless, angry, in need of certainty and some respect.
What will happen to us? Both writers are strong, clever people from different parts of society but both long for some sense that we are all in this together that we all matter to each other that rules and authority aren’t there to destroy us but to assist us.
Henry wonders about how he’ll die. Malignant brain tumour, dementia? Taking your own life when you are well is a fantasy that you can have control. Henry says that when you have no way out, you’re terminally ill you need hope more than anything. A good doctor takes the terminal diagnosis and gives a sense of control back to the patient.
I think that was the magic and mystery of health, wellness and medicine that surgeons, doctors and nurses created in the NHS and what people like Henry and, at a remove, Lisa, feel now about society. Henry feels that we have reshuffled a sense of the communal good in favour of the literal, measurable truth in the now and in doing that with truth we think it’s in numbers and facts and reports and statistics rather than within people. As we’ve done this we have lost something wonderful and gained alienation. Henry and Lisa are alienated and write about that alienation.
Henry’s autobiography Admissions, A Life in Brain Surgery opens with him defeated, isolated, after years of frustration and dismay, the erosion of trust and the decline of the medical profession….after a highly intricate operation to remove a brain tumour he is told by two nurses that he has no authority to say whether a nasal tube should be removed.
Henry storms off the ward after having tweaked the nose of the nurse who wouldn’t remove a naso gastric tube He was furious. He returns to apologise, ashamed, he is leaving the job he loves because he cannot cope.
Henry Marsh has kept a suicide kit, but realises that the moment of dying is never as simple as a writer might make it. How and when we die is impossible to predict, we don’t know if it will be degrading. We want to cling on.
Lisa’s novel is structured around the months of the year. Mum to the wonderful AJ and in an abusive marriage, Samantha feels that there is no way out, begins to think about ending it all but life, her strong and clever daughter and a chance encounter with a really straight up guy makes you hope she’ll have a happy ending.
We want a future even though we are dying…we are hard wired for hope. All we want is the reassurance that as death approaches that we will get through and be transformed.
You’ll find Minor Oak here: