nudge List Feb 2016: The Appliance of Neuroscience: The Man Without A Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

Article published on February 26, 2016.

In 2004, The Guardian noted that “Nearly every review of an Oates book, it seems, begins with a list of the number of books she has published” so I will refrain from repeating the offence on this occasion. If, however, you’re curious, Google her bibliography, look on her works, ye laggards, and despair. Popular novelists complain about the pressure of one-book-a-year contracts but Joyce Carol Oates has been writing one, sometimes two books a year, voluntarily, since 1963. Truly, she is to authorial prolificacy what Mary Berry is to baking. All of which would be mildly disturbing if charges of cookie-cutting could be legitimately leveled against her but not a bit of it; the quality, vitality and variety of her writing is never less than thoroughly impressive.Joyce Carol Oates

Anyway, we said we wouldn’t, so on to the new novel in which a young research scientist named Margot Sharpe is introduced to Elihu Hoopes, a charismatic amnesiac whose short-term memory has been devastated by a brief illness. Charming, mysterious, and lonely, Eli is tortured by his condition. Trapped eternally in the present moment, he is also haunted by a fragmented memory from his childhood: the disturbing image of an unknown girl’s body, floating under the surface of a lake.

Inspired and moved by her exceptional patient, Margot dedicates her professional life to him and, in so doing, establishes for herself an exceptional career in the rapidly expanding field of neuroscience. But where is the line between scientific endeavour and personal obsession? And how to interpret the wishes of a person who is trapped outside time? Atmospheric and unsettling, The Man Without A Shadow is a poignant exploration of loneliness, ethics, aging and memory – ambitiously structured and made vivid by Oates’s eye for detail and deep insight into the human psyche.

As one reviewer pointed out, Joyce Carol Oates is “a formidable psychologist with a thrilling way of grasping an emotion, wasting no time and launching herself straight at the aching heart of the matter.’ That she does, and by the way, it makes a nice change to see a title with a Man in it instead of yet another Girl?

Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List

The Man Without A Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates is published by HarperCollins Fourth Estate as a £12.99 HBK on 28th January.

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