old friends

    The State of Me, by Nasim Marie Jafry (Books 2014, 4)

    Well this is an interesting one. Nasim is an old friend. Or it might be more accurate to say she was the big sister of an old friend. She lived two doors down the road when I was growing up. Her younger brothers were both close friends of mine. A few weeks ago I came across some old email, and it made me think of them. I knew that Nasim had had a story or two published, so I googled her. Found her blog, discovered she’d had a novel published, ordered it from Amazon, and here we are.

    In doing all this I got back in touch with her and with her brother, Yusuf, who I haven’t see in I don’t know how many years. So it’s all good.

    But what about the book, I hear you ask?

    Well, it’s not the kind of thing I’d normally choose to read — or not without a serious recommendation from a friend, for example. But it’s really, really good.

    It’s a fictionalised autobiography, in that the protagonist goes through the same experience with contracting ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) that Nasim herself did. And it’s set partly in Balloch, where we grew up.

    Far more importantly, though, it’s a really good book. The characters are believable, especially the protagonist, Helen. That might be just as you’d expect, as they’re drawn from life; but I strongly suspect that it’s no easier to write a convincing character based on a real person – even yourself – than to write one who is completely imaginary.1 We are drawn in to her inner life, her loves and her problems, and we are glad to be.

    When she is laid low by the hateful condition, we feel her every twinge and ache. When she falls in love we fall right with her. And that’s an important point: this isn’t a misery memoir; it’s by no means all about the illness, or even about Helen’s responses to the illness. ME affects and influences everything in her life, but she still manages to have a life, and Nasim makes it an interesting one, one we’re happy to share for a while.

    Yet at the same time she manages to educate us about ME, through Helen’s own learning about it. It is still a little-understood condition, with underfunded research and mistaken guidelines from NICE.

    All in all, it’s a fine debut, and I look forward to reading more from Nasim.

    1. And of course, consciously or not, writers always draw on the real people they’ve met when constructing their characters. What else is there, after all? ↩︎