The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves

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The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves, by Siri Hustvedt, Sceptre, RRP£8.99, 224 pages

While delivering a eulogy in 2006 for her father who had died two years before, Hustvedt began to shake. The symptom recurred in routine moments of public scrutiny – book launches, lectures – until a betablocker offered some control.

A year-long migraine in the 1980s had defied medical opinion but intensified Hustvedt’s interest in neurology and psychoanalysis. The Shaking Woman is a culmination of this interest. It offers a fascinating and densely erudite meditation on neuroscience and psychiatry, leavened by her elegant prose and dry wit.

Hustvedt’s absorbing last novel had cast an imagined brother as a psychoanalyst. Here she dips knowledgeably into the study of hysteria and Freud’s theories before exploring how language relates to self-consciousness, the elusive nature of mystical experience or memory. Her nervous system, concludes a still shaking Hustvedt, illustrates “the ambiguities of illness and diagnosis”.

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