Monday, October 15, 2018

The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars

Title:  The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars:  A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness
Author:  Paul Broks
Publication Information:  Crown. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0307985792 / 978-0307985798

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This wasn't my idea."

Favorite Quote:  "The human brain is a storytelling machine and the self is a yarn it spins."

Paul Broks is a English neuropsychologist. Neuropsychology studies the physical brain (the "neuro") as it relates to a person's behaviors (the "psychology"). Yes, I looked that up. It is considered an experimental field looking at the behavioral and cognitive effects of neurological disorders. Paul Broks practiced the field both as a clinician and as a researcher.

Paul Broks is also a grieving husband, having watched his wife battle cancer and sadly pass away. In her final months of her life, she chose palliative care as opposed to curative or life-extending options. This book is primarily a struggle to come to terms with this loss and this grief. As we all do, he applies what he knows to try and understand.

This book is many things. Personal story. Case studies. Religion. Science. Mythology. Fiction. Philosophy. And sometimes a combination of all of the above. It is a collection of essay like moments more so than a cohesive story. It is certainly more than the memoir it is categorized as. Let's take for example the first four chapters. The Prologue stipulates the organization or lack thereof; it likens the book to a "rambling, ramshackle house." The first chapter is his wife's death. The second is a traumatic childhood moment with his first experience with death. The third is a flight of imagination. So on, the book continues.

The book is composed of three sections - A Grief Observed, A Thousand Red Butterflies, and Into the Labyrinth. I deliberately don't say that the book is "organized" into three sections, for organization is too strict a term for the somewhat scattered collection. Within each section are individual essays or thoughts. It is almost as if the mind considers one, puts it aside, and moves on to a different one. That cycle repeats as the book winds its way from beginning to end. Even beginning to end is a stretch for truly each thought or chapter could be considered individually.

In some ways, this makes the book easy and quick to read even though given Paul Broks' background, the book does have a rather academic tone. Short chapters not always connected lend themselves to quick reading and the ability to pick a book up and put it down. In other ways, this makes the book a challenge because it is difficult to find or follow a continuity. It is a challenge, but then again, perhaps that is the point. That is often the process of grief as the mind drifts from thing to thing to thing attempting to make sense of a situation. I don't know if that is the intent, but that is what I take away from the book for I bring to it myself and my own experiences with grief. That lens allows my own interpretation of these thoughts.

Loss and grief is an individual process. It is unique to every person and to every situation. This book is Paul Borks' journey - not a literal description of the "life" aspects of that journey but rather a mental and emotional journey put on paper. An interesting addition to the books about grief.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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