Sunday, August 09, 2009

Grace Maxwell – ‘Falling & Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins’

About halfway through reading it I wrote: ‘The Edwyn book has become less upsetting since his condition has stabilised (though this is relative to earlier chapters which are Very Upsetting Indeed). He still has MRSA to go, it is coming on, has caused the postponement of language / mobility therapy. I don’t know how much I’m actually enjoying it, but it is gripping. Far more in depth than the TV documentary, which only showed the latter stages of therapy, and triumphant goals achieved – rehearsals for a gig, climbing a large set of stone steps to a view of a tempestuous sea, “Leviathan” playing in the background. Grace does such a good job of conveying her shock, and the determination with which she counters it. There are moments when she expresses horror at what Edwyn has lost, but she never considers for a moment that he himself might be gone. It is as though she is dragging him back to the surface by sheer willpower – matched, she emphasises, by Edwyn’s own.’

I’m not sure how much I want to add to that. Looking back over the book for quotations it is upsetting all over again. But in the best sense. It disrupts and it re-affirms. At the end of the ‘Coping’ chapter, Grace notes how common their situation is, and that ‘we in the West have conspired to hide away from unpleasantness to hermetically seal it off from our perception of normal life.’ (p. 87). Our hero concurs:

Edwyn found his flow one day and said to me: ‘Suffering is ordinary. Suffering is the understanding.’

He knows too. (p. 89)

Though the situation is common, I don’t know about the reaction. S., who works with people who have brain injuries, says that the level to which he has recovered is ‘awesome’, it is not something she expected from her experience of similar cases. An unsympathetic doctor paints a gloomy picture:

any progress we see could plateau and finish at any time. As for his speech, his cognitive powers, well, not much going on there, I’m afraid.

David and I pass silent judgement on this charmer. (p. 102)

For him to be talking, walking, singing, drawing, performing, writing one of his best ever songs... it is incredible. Grace records with satisfaction that this plateau was never reached, that improvements continue. This book, like the Home Again album booklet, has Edwyn’s beautiful drawings of birds scattered throughout. It has the most perfect title, the most perfect cover. Nearly every page will make you cry, one way or another. Thank you, brave people, for sharing this.

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