Monday, 6 August 2012

Gail Hornstein

I hadn’t been prepared for Gail’s individual and personal style. She is consummately professional, yet allows her grumps and grumbles and individual reactions to filter through, thus lifting and rounding the whole experience of reading the book. She ferrets and sherlocks her way through her journey towards understanding and grips the enthralled reader. 

Near the end of the book, she visits the Rosetta Stone engraved with ancient hieroglyphics in the British Museum in an attempt to gain inspiration about deciphering the text on the jacket. Many people had tried to decipher the marks until a brilliant polymath Champillon managed to crack the mystery.

‘Even brilliant, dedicated scholars can be blinded by incorrect assumptions. Because they rejected the idea that hieroglyphics made sense, Champillon’s competitors prevented themselves from figuring out the meaning of ancient Egyptian texts.

What if today’s biological psychiatrists are stuck in an equally misleading train of thought? What if their PET scans and genetic studies are based on a fundamentally wrong assumption about how to understand mental distress?’

Part‘tec, part humane listener, part psychology prof, combined with her forensic ear for detail and what’s important in the fractured lives of those she writes about, makes for a fascinating author. Finally she sees the real jacket. To me this was the most moving part of the book. It was like finding Tutankhamun’s treasure.

‘My white-gloved hands carefully ease the jacket from the protective paper it’s wrapped in. Sliding the storage box to one side, I lay the jacket out on the counter, its sleeves fully extended. Bettina has given me a magnifying glass and I hold it up to the intricate writing on the left arm. The room is silent. I’m holding my breath.’
Everyone needs to tell their story. From Arturo Bispo di Rosario’s huge cloak (Equilibrium 2008) covered with his life, to Hungarian apron patterns to protect against unseen forces, to Agnes, from draughty church halls to autobiography, from blogs to balladeers, making sense and recording that sense and having it heard, seen, touched or read is supremely important. Read this book! 
Polly Mortimer

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