Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Unquiet Bones: review

'The Unquiet Bones' is not a book I'd usually choose (not being a big fan of historical crime fiction), but one of the joys of being a disciple of Medical Humanities is that it takes me to plays and films I wouldn't otherwise see, and encourages me to read books I wouldn't otherwise have considered. Melvin Starr's first novel introduces Hugh de Singleton, fictional medieval surgeon in the real-life Oxfordshire village of Bampton.

The author, Melvin Starr, is an American scholar of medieval surgery and English, but I am relieved to say that this novel bears no hint of dry academic discourse. It is written in prosaic, no-nonsense style, with an emphasis on moving the plot along. Written in the first person, Hugh de Singleton turns out to be an affable chap, eager to please his patron, Lord Gilbert. When the bones of a young girl are found in Gilbert's castle cesspit, Hugh is commissioned to play detective to solve the mystery. Read the first chapter here.

While undoubtedly a page-turner, 'The Unquiet Bones' reads a little like a potential script for a TV drama: long on dialogue and short on description. Rather too many sentences start with 'I' in quick succession, and there is little to explain Hugh's remarkable medical acumen and experience given he is new to the job. In short, I would have liked more literariness! However, the story has a twist or two and I found myself rooting for the modest Hugh, especially in his aspiring to the beautiful Lady Joan who is way above his station. Billed as the 'first chronicle', there is obviously more to look forward to.

Other historical series with a medical slant are the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters (I can really recommend the audiobooks of these which are beautifully read by Stephen Thorne, complete with lyrical Welsh cadences), and the delightful Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Peabody is redoubtable Victorian archaeologist with a modicum of medical skill and a considerable ego.

Graphic books on medicine

It just has to be the coolest topic ever for an MA in Medical Humanities: investigating medical narratives in comics (or 'graphic fiction' as it has come to be known). The man with this enviable task is Ian Williams is a GP, an artist, and now a student at Swansea University. Graphic novels are fascinating for their potent combination of image and text. The first one I came across was 'Mom's Cancer' (reviewed on this blog here). This is a growing genre of pathography: Williams currently lists 24 books on his website. Just this week, Matthew Johnstone and his wife Ainsley were talking on Radio 4's Midweek about their new illustrated self-help guide on depression (aimed mainly at carers) called 'Living with the Black Dog'.

Williams has launched a beautifully designed (as one might expect) website as a resource for health professionals,, dedicated to reviewing and discussing
graphic books with a medical theme. Inspired by Arthur Frank's notion of 'The Wounded Storyteller', Williams believes that these books are examples of how sharing the profound experience of illness with others is often part of a healing process. He argues that it is high time that graphic fiction was taken seriously, suggesting that comics and graphic novels could play a valuable role in:
  • Reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine
  • Relating the patient/carer/provider experience
  • Enabling discussion of difficult subjects
  • Helping other sufferers or carers

Although studying comics and graphic books sounds like fun in the name of academia, these books are often harrowing, made all the more poignant by the use of the comic-strip format with its often-ironic 'punchline'.

We wish Ian all the best with his studies and look forward to reading about his conclusions.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Celebrities And Aid: New Humanitarians or Just Another Fad?

We are delighted to invite you to a public debate organised by the LSE Centre for Civil Society and Médecins Sans Frontières as part of the Lent Term Public Events programme at the London School of Economics.

Celebrities And Aid: New Humanitarians or Just Another Fad?
Date: Thursday 5th February 2009
Time: 6.30-8pmVenue: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
Speakers: Lisa Ann Richey, John Street, Kris Torgeson
Chair: Dr Armine Ishkanian

Why do charities use celebrities to speak out on humanitarian action? Who do celebrities represent? Are they genuinely committed to the causes they espouse or have causes become another path to self-promotion? These are some of the issues that our panellists debate.

Lisa Ann Richey is Associate Professor of International Studies at Roskilde University. John Street is a Professor of Politics at the University of East Anglia. Kris Torgeson is the International Secretary for the Médecins Sans Frontières International Office.

This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. Information about coming to LSE can be found on the LSE website or by calling the LSE Events Office on 020 7955 6043 .