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Metamorphosis: A Life in Pieces

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A darkly comic and moving reflection on what it means to be human in a world where nothing is certain, from the award-winning Oxford professor'The best book about multiple sclerosis'THE TIMES'An outstanding feat'SUNDAY TIMESWe all have trapdoors in our lives.

Cummings, who died aged 30, didn’t give the name of his illness but the symptoms are unmistakably those of MS. In his lovely, book-lined room in Magdalen College, Oxford – open a window, and you may hear the sound of a deer coughing in the mist – Douglas-Fairhurst, a fiftysomething professor of English whose studies of Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens have won literary prizes, and who has acted as the historical consultant on, among other productions, the TV series Dickensian and the Enola Holmesfilms, gamely waves an ankle at me.

Yet, as with everything Douglas-Fairhurst does, it's also beautifully written, with great humanity, and wit (occasionally laugh-out-loud funny), and it doesn't dodge the serious business of being at the mercy of one's own increasingly self-defeating body. He experienced “bladder urgency”, a condition that affects up to 80% of MS patients; his voice began to grow faint. For me the funniest moment arises from a wholly unfunny circumstance; one of the symptoms of his condition is urinary ‘urgency’. He had the latter, with no effective treatment, it seemed, let alone a cure: “My body was like a dying coral reef. He compares this to coming out as gay as an undergraduate, and says that it was more like a process than an event.

Words stop working, and it is hard to make a joke when one is afraid of making some ghastly breach of taste, like farting in church. We are experiencing delays with deliveries to many countries, but in most cases local services have now resumed.Yes, I’d had many months to prepare for the pandemic – and again, this is going to sound holier than thou, but I think it gave me more empathy for people when it began.

We don’t share your credit card details with third-party sellers, and we don’t sell your information to others. In 2013 he was a Judge of the Man Booker Prize, and in 2015 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. But, after all that is a socially common response in most people in the presence of serious illness or bereavement. It was a shuffling in his legs that had made Douglas-Fairhurst seek medical advice – and now a neurologist confirmed the worst.

The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products. It took him deep into his own mind: his hopes, his fears, his loves and losses, and the books that would sustain, inform and nourish him as his life began to transform in ways he could never have imagined. I don’t want to be too Pollyanna about this, but it’s better to be grateful for what you can do than to pine for what you can’t. He has also acted as the historical consultant on BBC productions of Jane Eyre, Emma, Great Expectations and Dickensian, and both of the Enola Holmes films for Netflix. Finally, out of the tragedy of a randomly afflicted life, comes life-affirming laughter, a humanity, courageous but not ostentatious, and a defiant Nietzschean gaiety.

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