A Matter of Appearance: A Memoir of Chronic Illness by Emily Wells*****

12 April 2024 | , , , , , ,

Reading dates: 15 September 2023 – 12 April 2024

A Matter of Appearance is an extraordinary book. I knew it to be so from the moment I opened as it encouraged me to sabotage my own reading. ‘Don’t mark pages, don’t take notes, so you can re-read it’ I said to myself. I read it in the Turkish Room of the Arlington Baths, one of my favourite places on Earth, a place of rest, recovery and deep listening. If there was a reading meditation, this would be it. It is beautifully written, wise, moving and clear in its murkiness. I left it on my desk for a whole month, bookmark on three pages from the end because I did not want to finish it. I did today, with some sadness.

The work is a memoir of chronic illness, interspersed with crystal clear accounts of the hysteric Augustine, Charcot and Freud. It would have been a perfect book to read for the Ornery Women group if it had continued (I miss it). It is very articulate, very precise. Its structure reminded me of the earlier Darian Leader books ‘Why do women write more letters than they post’ and ‘Promises lovers make when it gets late’. Psychoanalysis at its best I think, in the Freudian vein of digressing with purpose and insight. And A Matter of Appearance is masterful at that. It is about so many things and all done well. It is of the most truthful accounts I have read on the encounter with Augustine’s Salpêtrière photographs.

Her view of the hysteric and mine share a beating heart. I think Emily Wells would like Eleanor and my work on hysteria as much as I like hers. It feels the words are similar, in a different order. I did not even mind not quoting her in our work. It was not frustrating because she is so good that the only thing I could feel was gratitude that someone would continue talking about this work and with this language. I am glad the hysteric keeps inspiring writing. I hope someone invites us to speak together at some event. And since I can dream, let’s also have Sharon Kivland – about any of her works, really – and Katherine Angel, who is writing a book titled ‘Poor Freud’.

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