‘I’ll tell you something,' Paul Broks’s wife, Kate, said to him on her deathbed, as an oxygen machine sighed in the background. 'You don’t know how precious life is. You think you do, but you don’t.' Theirs was a loving marriage, and they strove to drink up as much life together as possible before she died of cancer in her late 50s. But for Mr. Broks, his wife’s pointed words left a mark. Did he, in fact, understand the value of life? What, he wondered, does it mean to live well? These are just some of the heady questions swirling around Mr. Broks's book about life, death and the profound mysteries of consciousness.
To understand what this book is really about you need to know the ending of the quote in the title...'The deeper the sorrow, the closer is God.' Except that there is no God in this book, there are only terrible depths of grief, along with layer upon layer of neuroscience, philosophy, memoir, Greek myth and odd fictionalised encounters with — by way of two examples — a bereaved CS Lewis and an imaginary 90-year-old daughter who has uploaded her mind into a futuristic 'hive' ... intolerably self-conscious and artful, as if no one should weave loss and neuroscience into such a clever pattern. I bridled occasionally. But I also cried until my throat stung and concluded that, as an exploration of love and loss, as a portrait of a person and of the nature of personhood, this book is about as true as any I have read.
I hope bookshops find this book easier to categorise than I do, otherwise it may be destined to float round the shelves, homeless, finally finishing up stacked in a corner of the New Age section. Because what is it about? It has three parts, but I’m not at all sure why, and the cover information, 'a voyage of experience: a journey through grief, philosophy, consciousness, humanity and magical thinking', suggests an almost arbitrary combination of elements ... Perhaps never mind. In the end it was just what the author wanted to write about, because those were the things in his mind. And we can go with it because it is a rewarding mind to spend some time with.
In this meditative investigation into the nature and history of consciousness, Broks is an engaging Virgil to the reader’s Dante as we tour the Jungian labyrinth of the mind, successfully blending Greek mythology, philosophy, allegory, memoir, case studies, and thought experiments… Broks plants seeds that flower pages later as he explains that our mental landscape seems to extend far beyond the confines of our skull-sized kingdoms, or as Hamlet keenly observed, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.’”
Broks reflects on the idea of death and what it means to be human in this collection of musings centered loosely on his personal struggle to cope with his wife’s cancer diagnosis and her death some years later ... He mingles memories, dreams, and his deepest thoughts with teaching experiences and clinical observations drawn from a career as a neuropsychologist ... Broks’s book is a digressive journey through the subject of human consciousness. He mixes pub banter, philosophy, Greek myths, the 'deathbed' music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt...and many other topics ... Like the box of old family photographs Broks achingly describes, this metascience narrative is well worth sorting through.
A neuropsychologist’s grief memoir embedded within a series of eclectic musings on consciousness ... The author invites readers to wander at will through this 'ramshackle house of a book,' a loose collage of memories, dreams, philosophies of mind, journal entries, with the story of his grief and recovery turning up from time to time amid the bric-a-brac. Alongside the brain candy of unusual case histories—e.g., people caught in the nightmarish hallucinations of sleep paralysis or who suddenly stop recognizing their own body parts as belonging to them or who suffer from Cotard’s syndrome, in which they believe they are dead—Broks weaves in entry-level overviews of anatomy, philosophy, myth, and literature, with a predilection for the Greeks and the Stoics.