In 1995 Alice's mother collapsed with pneumonia. She never fully recovered and was eventually diagnosed with ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Then Alice got ill. Their symptoms mirrored their mother's and appeared to have no physical cause; they received the same diagnosis a few years later. Ill Feelings blends memoir, medical history, biography and literary nonfiction to uncover both of their case histories, and branches out into the records of ill health that women have written about in diaries and letters. Their cast of characters includes Virginia Woolf and Alice James, the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson, John Ruskin's lost love Rose la Touche, the artist Louise Bourgeois and the nurse Florence Nightingale. Suffused with a generative, transcendent rage, Alice Hattrick's genre-bending debut is a moving and defiant exploration of life with a medically unexplained illness
The kind of language used to describe and diagnose illness is very important, and Hattrick’s book might be seen as a kind of virtuosic riff on the ideas Susan Sontag expressed in (1978). Like Sontag, Hattrick accepts the inevitability of metaphoric thinking; but they also set out to resist the dominant metaphors used by medical professionals ... Hattrick’s book is full of other women sufferers with too much flair for metaphor – Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alice James, Virginia Woolf, all of whose attempts to describe illness are at odds with the public and often patriarchal language of medical science ... Through these historical figures, Hattrick’s book glimpses other possibilities, a more utopian 'kingdom of the ill' with a 'shared hysterical language.'
Hattrick’s descriptions of their and their mother’s symptoms are visceral, even painful to read. Sickness, they note, changes the patient’s notion of time. Part memoir, part medical history, part diary, Ill Feelings is an unsentimental, angry, and ultimately brave account of living with relentless suffering.
Alice Hattrick bears fascinating witness to the arduous burden of sickness and chronic infirmity. It is a deeply personal, thoroughly researched, philosophical memoir ... Hattrick's mother's story is remarkable in itself. However, when Hattrick starts to manifest chillingly similar symptoms, their stories entwine and tangle: sick, heartbroken mother and daughter are both forced to battle a cold, impersonal medical bureaucracy ... Hattrick draws on journal entries, sifts information gathered from medical consultations and case notes, and mines the lives of other notable women who also struggled with mysterious illnesses that isolated and marginalized them from society ... Hattrick's multi-faceted, poetically drawn account elevates the traditional illness narrative ... Moving.