THE INWARD EMPIRE by Christian Donlan


Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood
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A journalist debuts with an intimate account of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis and his growing awareness of his roles as a young husband and a new father.

During the period covered here, Donlan, an American who lives in England, was writing about video games, and he escorts us around that world before his first symptoms appear. Then we travel with him on other journeys, medical and psychological. His chapters are mostly chronological, and following each is a more general section dealing with the history of the disease, descriptions of key patients, and evolving treatments. Donlan alternates between the changes in his own body and mind and those occurring in his young daughter, Leon. As his symptoms intensify—and as he moves from treatment to treatment (there are not a lot of options for him, we learn)—he also shows us the growth of Leon: standing, speaking, imagining, playing, and discovering the wonders of eyeglasses. In these clear, honest pages, the author displays an active curiosity about his illness and flexes some literary muscle, too. He memorized Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (the actual one is nearby) to entertain his mother, and he quotes from T.S. Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he finds especially relevant to his situation. (He mentions a Hyde-like flare at his daughter that brings both of them to tears.) Donlan’s wife emerges in these pages as little shy of a saint. She seems to know what to say (and what not to) and what to do (and not do). The author shows her as a wise, loving, compassionate companion. We also meet some of his medical team—and fellow patients—especially in a section near the end about his weeklong hospitalization for a series of infusions.

In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness and mortality.

Pub Date: June 26th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-50936-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2018


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