A silent epidemic of chronic illnesses afflicts tens of millions of Americans: these are diseases that are poorly understood, frequently marginalized, and can go undiagnosed and unrecognized altogether. O'Rourke investigates this elusive category of 'invisible' illness that encompasses autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and now long-COVID, synthesizing the personal and the universal to help all of us through this new frontier.
O’Rourke boldly investigates the origin of her ills and possible cures. More crucially, she probes the cultural, psychological, and medical experiences of people with poorly understood or immune-mediated illnesses ... Refreshingly, Invisible Kingdom avoids battle analogies and a redemptive narrative arc ... O’Rourke’s telling is an essential one ... One of the book’s most riveting themes is how O’Rourke grapples with her identity as a sick person ... Invisible Kingdom couldn’t be more timely.
... a profound, sometimes lyrical, deeply moving portrayal of a vague constellation of illnesses ... She steers ably between the Scylla of cynicism and the Charybdis of romanticism, achieving an authentically original voice and, perhaps more startlingly, an authentically original perspective. A poet by choice and an interpreter of medical doctrine by necessity, she brings an elegant discipline to her description of a horrific decade lost to overdetermined symptoms that were misdiagnosed or dismissed as hypochondria. O’Rourke is not afraid to plumb the depth of her affliction; there are no niceties about starving children in the developing world who have it worse, though she does nod to less advantaged populations for whom conditions such as hers invite medical neglect and occasion bankruptcy. The book reads in part like a good mystery: She alludes to being better from the start, but we are constantly guessing which doctor or intervention made the decisive difference ... The book is not only a memoir of her illness, but also a document of years of research, some of it for this book, but much of it simply to preserve her sanity ... Her book has very little celebration in it, but it is a triumphant document of her refusal to be unseen, her ongoing dedication to cogency ... O’Rourke exposes the ways illness coincides with time to undermine identity ... Her book can be humorless to the point of self-pity, and sometimes this becomes tiresome; even the dying can find grace in some levity sprinkled through their narratives of decay. Indeed, hilarity is often the tool by which intimacy with the reader is achieved. But O’Rourke seems to be above such pandering. What she endured wasn’t funny; it is the occasion neither of wit nor of exuberance. For all its visceral force, her prose is literal, urgent, packed into the tight container of a single book about multiple sicknesses and disappointments and losses. In this era when we understand so much, we still fall short on chronic illness, autoimmune disorders, disruptions of the microbiome, the lasting effects of Lyme, long Covid and a variety of other such complaints. She refuses to sugarcoat the reality she has endured ... The book will be helpful to people in O’Rourke’s position: those who are suffering with confusing, unexplained illnesses. It is likewise a commentary on medicine as it exists today, puncturing our fantasy that diagnosticians can reliably make clear diagnoses, that the course of treatment upon diagnosis is usually clear and specific, that medicine is straightforward and that bodily ills can be targeted. O’Rourke is not blithely holistic in the New Agey, potpourri way of so much amateur writing about illness. But she does entertain the idea that there is insight beyond what is delivered by the men in white coats who populate the corridors of American hospitals, and then chaos beyond that insight. While her full diagnosis is never clear, her writing consistently is.
The Invisible Kingdom is thus not a straightforward accountcharting the usual stages fromdisease onset to medical intervention to ultimate recovery—the hallmarks of many illness narratives ... The Invisible Kingdom, like chronic illness itself, doesn’t end in a cure and doesn’t offer magic bullets for those who are suffering. What it does provide, powerfully, is a reminder to 'those of us at the edge of medical knowledge' that 'we live in the gap together' ... She provides an account that many will be able to relate to—a ray of light into those isolated cocoons of darkness that, at one time or another, may afflict us all.