Nasim Marie Jafry's debut novel reads more like memoir, depicting a fifteen year period in the life a woman diagnosed with ME, a condition which also affects the author. Diagnosed in the '80s, Helen Fleet must deal with a medical community that knows so little about her condition that it's often dismissed as psychosomatic. While this book does a good job challenging that idea, it didn't feel bogged down with medical information.
The novel is anything but plot driven. About a hundred pages in, I read some reviews to see if I should keep going. The consensus was yes, and I'm glad I did, but part of what impressed me the most about this book is that there's really no conventional plot to be found in 500 pages.
What kept me reading was the quirky perspective of the narrator. She is whiny and irritating at times (especially in the beginning when she's in her early twenties), but her take on the world in which she participates differently is revealing. She discusses the way her illness affects life's practicalities- going to parties, holding a job, traveling, living on her own.
Surprisingly, the narrative is dominated by her insecurities about her dating life. In some ways, this is frustrating, but it's also rather humanizing. The expectation for many readers would be for her thoughts to be consumed by her disease, but instead she obsesses over whether a particular boy will call her.
The book is unconventional stylistically. She shifts tenses and POV (by scene, not within a scene). There are "interviews" included where Helen answers the questions of a stranger, reminiscent of the ignorance she encounters about ME. As the perspective moves closer, then further away, it seems to mimic her own experience; at times she feels she's watching herself from the outside.
I think Jafry does a really good job of showing someone who is struggling with disability, but not defined by it. So many other things are bigger, most especially her unique personality. I think we live in a society that often forgets that's true of everyone.