The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars weaves a scientist’s understanding of the mind – its logic, its nuance, how we think about what makes a person – with a poet’s approach to humanity, that crucial and ever-elusive why. It’s a story that unfolds through the centuries, along the path of humankind’s constant quest to discover what makes us human, and the answers that consistently slip out of our grasp. It’s modern medicine and psychology and ancient tales; history and myth combined; fiction and the stranger truth.
‘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.