The power of words

An interesting – okay, unpleasant – thing happened to me today as I was travelling the Glasgow-Edinburgh line.  I fainted, causing a mild ruckus. The culprit:

Booker Shortlisted, Jamrach's Menagerie (taken from The Casual Optimist)

I was reading away – no spoilers here, don’t worry! – the writing steadily getting more grim (which when I began the book, I had not expected one bit) when I suddenly began to feel a bit squeamish.  I remember thinking, well, I’ll get through this, then I’ll take a break. I am loathe to skip anything, because what if amongst the horror is some kernel of intense existential truth? I got through the passage, or part of it, and set the book aside, my breath beginning to get ragged. But too late, my insides went weak, and the light buzzed grey.

Lights out, a violent parody of sleep.

Then I was partially awake again, for some reason grasping about for my phone, panting for air. Still in my chair, thankfully. A woman came over to me to check I wasn’t suffocating, and the ticket inspector asked me if I wanted to leave the train at the small town of Polmont. I think that would only have complicated matters, since I would have had to be handed around like a lost glove for a while, or plonked on a platform bench to recover. Another kind soul gave me his water from a coke bottle, and in the end I made it through to be rescued by D at Edinburgh Waverley.

This is the first time a book has made me pass out completely. I had a little bit of a wobble with Interview with the Vampire,  and American Psycho was affecting in other ways – flashing of certain images, days later, and great disgust, but it was not to the same degree. It was the build up, the unrelenting quantity of believable, physical horror of that part of Jamrach’s Menagerie that did for me.  I quite admire it, really, as much as my body quailed, and feel a great wish to finish the book. Being ‘hooked’ is not always a pleasant feeling, as any fish of experience could tell you. Perhaps I’ll have the fortitude in a few days or so.



Filed under Scotland, The Now

2 responses to “The power of words

  1. Poor you – I had almost the same experience years ago on a subway train reading A Time to Kill – the rape scene.

    “handed around like a lost glove” – great image!

  2. Thanks Downith – always good to know which ones to step carefully into!

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