In this unique neurological memoir Siri Hustvedt attempts to solve her own mysterious condition. While speaking at a memorial event for her father in 2006, Siri Hustvedt suffered a violent seizure from the neck down. Despite her flapping arms and shaking legs, she continued to speak clearly and was able to finish her speech. It was as if she had suddenly become two people--a calm orator and a shuddering wreck. Then the seizures happened again and again. The Shaking Woman tracks Hustvedt's search for a diagnosis. That search introduces her to the theories of several scientific disciplines, each one of which offers a distinct perspective on her paroxysms but no ready solution. In the process, she finds herself entangled in fundamental questions: What is the relationship between brain and mind? How do we remember? What is the self?
During her investigations, Hustvedt joins a discussion group in which neurologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and brain scientists trade ideas to develop a new field: neuropsychoanalysis. She volunteers as a writing teacher for psychiatric in-patients at the Payne Whitney clinic in New York City and unearths precedents in medical history that illuminate the origins of and shifts in our theories about the mind-body problem. In The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt synthesizes her experience and research into a compelling mystery: Who is the shaking woman? In the end, the story she tells becomes, in the words of George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind, "a brilliant illumination for us all."
Amazon Exclusive: Hilary Mantel Reviews The Shaking Woman
Hilary Mantel was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize for her novel, Wolf Hall. She is the author of nine previous novels, including A Place of Greater Safety, A Change of Climate, and Fludd. Her reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The London Review of Books. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of The Shaking Woman:
"Where do you get your ideas from?" novelists are often asked. "Where do you get your characters?" They are less often stolen from real life than readers imagine; they are more often generated deep inside, and stored till they are wanted. In the same way, the novelist's life, however unremarkable, has to generate the imagined stories of strangers. You are always looking inside yourself for shadowy companion selves who can be recognized and put to work.
Siri Hustvedt is a novelist with a searching intelligence, who knows that when she is not at peace with herself there is creative work going on. Her book opens with an account of her beloved father's memorial service. When she stood up to pronounce his eulogy, she began to shake--not just with a tremor of grief, but convulsively, so that she could hardly stand. She was aghast. Who was this shaking woman? Had she ever met her before?
This exhilarating and deeply intelligent book is an account of a search for her. She must be sought medically, psychologically, historically. She is a personal inner construct, part of the author's autobiography, but she is also a type, a collective. There have been shaking women before: as well as those struck down by organic diseases, there have been the 'hysterics' of nineteenth century pathology. Hustvedt sets out to explore the frontiers of neurology and psychology. She probes the history of these disciplines, and asks whether the way we organize scientific knowledge causes some of it to be lost, to leak away at the margins. It's contentious territory, where no easy formulations stand up for long; there are more uneasy questions than pat answers. Readers of Oliver Sacks will relish this book because Hustvedt displays a similar blend of scientific detachment and warm human intuition. Sensitive and highly attuned to her own processes, she is also an illuminating guide to the dark country of a writing life. --Hilary Mantel
From Publishers Weekly
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