Monday, January 20, 2014

Danish Author Christian Jungersen Presents Puzzling Psychological Drama!

English: Orbital gyrus. 日本語: 眼窩回。前頭葉にある脳回のひとつ。
English: Orbital gyrus. Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The orbitofrontal cortex sits in the very front of the brain, just over the eyes. Some peple with orbitofrontal injuries may exhibit ony a few of the following characteristics, while others develop most of them:

  • lack of empathy for and interest in other people
  • recklessness, tactless behavior, unacceptable sexual advances
  • unnatural jocularity involving trite, childish jokes
  • fearlessness and emotional callousness, with minimal capacity for self-criticism
  • distractibility and a tendency to give up when confronted with any difficulty. These symptoms can manifest themselves without any evident sign of neurological illness, such as paralysis. Moreover, the injured person experiences virtually no sense of being ill. As a consequence, he is completely uninterested in consulting a physicial or psychologist.


You Disappear
Christian Jungersen

If I had never been finally diagnosed with clinical depression as a result of job burnout, I wonder how I would have approached reading this novel, after I had read the blurb... This powerful Medical drama is unsettling, disturbing. It is filled with what happens to each of us when something, within our brain, is hurt--in this case with a tumor... I found, however, that when I read this type of novel, I was looking at all of the activities in relation to the identification of how this individual and their circle of family and friends are affected... When an injury or change to the brain happens, indeed, it is clear that it affects many more individuals than the involved individual

The title tells us exactly what does happen: You Disappear... Oh, you may be physically alive, but something has happened to your emotional everything... It is scary for the individual and confusing to those around, because as indicated above, sometimes the individual does not even understand that they've changed. I was lucky that did not happen to me, but I certainly believe that depression can bring about many similar symptoms, even if the individual is aware, because of the inability to emotionally deal quickly enough to react. 

Five days ago, on the day we were to fly to Majorca,
I stopped on my run along the wooded path beside
Lake Farum, and I gave myself some time to think
about how good my life really is. I walked out on one
of the short piers, and the breeze chilled the sweat
beneath my top. I thought about what has made
these years so different from my life a few years
Out on the lake the water rose in small swells that
weren't actual waves, and the woods on the opposite
bank looked like they'd gone deeper into autumn
that the trees above and behind me. I have a lovely
son and good friends, meaningful work, a house we
are fond of. But I had all of that three years ago
too. The difference--the major, critical difference--
is that now I feel loved.
How many people can say that, that they really
feel loved? It's something I should relish.
Finally, I thought, everything's fallen into place.
And then I continued my run, down the path
through the woods.
There are several issues that I felt were not clearly covered....first, let me introduce the setting and the characters...

Frederik is headmaster of a private school, highly effective respected and committed to the work. In fact, he spends most of his time working. He also had two affairs during that time...

That changed somewhere between 3 and 6 years ago...

Mia and Niklas had been affected by the time loss of husband and father... as are many in families across the world.  When Frederick began to change, it was "for the better" of the family... Because of this, it appears in reading the novel that Mia becomes somewhat abusive, unemotional and unsympathetic... While, instead, she realized that it was "because of" the tumor that Frederick had turned more time toward the family, and less committed to work... To me, this was a very important issue that was not fully discussed/covered so that what happens (a divorce) makes Mia appear to be insensitive...

On the other hand, I realized that other readers may have an entirely difference perspective. But, for me, by the time everything came out, Mia was clearly in depression herself, as was her son... She acknowledged it, but nobody else even thought of their well-being in my opinion.

The key issue was that nobody around the family could or would willingly see that all three needed help!

It was on their vacation that overt actions by Frederik began...specifically, speeding and then an accident that was really the result of his fearlessness.

It was discovered that Frederik had a tumor on part of his brain--the part that affects behavior, for me, is the easiest way to explain it... See above for specific symptoms, etc.

That's is a traumatic discovery, is it not? But that was only the beginning... He had embezzled from the school and had bankrupted them. The school had to close! Of course, everybody who worked there were losing their jobs, their homes, as the law required restitution be made of as much of the millions of crowns as possible. Initially, and in many of the people's minds, Mia was said to have participated and although it was proven that Frederik had signed her name, still people believed that she couldn't possibly have not known. She had not because he was gambling it away...
"Frederik has had the school stand surety for loans worth
twelve million crowns."
"But he can't have!"
"If there's anyone who can, it's him."
"Mia, there's definitely no misunderstanding. And you know
that all too well...
Above my head I hear Benny's voice. "But he did this all before
he became ill. It began more than a year ago."
I get up so quickly that I momentarily lose my balance. "A
year ago?..But back then he was himself!"
I try to make him understand what Laust, Morten, and Benny
said. "It wasn't me." He sighs.
"No, I know that." I sit down again on the edge of the bed
next to his head; his eyes are still closed.
"It's all your doing." He groans.
"The two of you."
"You and Miklas."
"How could we have done anything?"
"You said I couldn't use the computers. So the school
lost the money."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Frederik secretly borrowed money from the school's
accounts to gamble on international commodity indexes...

A major part of the book illustratively shows how Frederik acted due to the tumor...

At the same time, Mia was encouraged to join a support group and she began to research as much as she could find about what was happening. The book includes excerpts sporadically as if to share what she discovered...  Two things happened that affected Mia's interaction with others, including Frederik. The more she learned, the more she used the correct terminology to state what Frederik was doing wrong. This was helping her since she was the primary caregiver, but his parents and soon everybody was getting resentful of her aggressive accusations of what he was doing that "was not him..."

The other thing was that she was being helped by the group, but fell in love with one of the men who was dealing with his wife's injury. As an aside, I was amazed at some of the statistics and high rate of probable injury in this particular area of the brain... Readers will realize that there are probably many more who act based upon those injuries but nobody realizes that a medical reason is behind their actions! Scary, right? Sad, definitely!

There are so many issues that happen in today's world. An intellectually-based literary novel that explores what happens to people when they realize that somebody they once loved, and to an extent, other lives can lose their free will decision-making ( if we believe that we have it in the first place) is important. The novel elicits all sorts of responses from readers even as we realize that the people involved cannot be held responsible. 

The one thing, however, that remains for me was that the life...before...was not a satisfactory one from Mia and her son's point of view. Doesn't it make you wonder about what is real living? Sure Frederik probably wouldn't have stolen the money, and Mia would never have even met the man she later grew to love. But what is the author saying about life in general when happiness came because of it, rather than the other way around... I found the ending from Frederik's point of view quite ironic, given that he was getting well...  Sooo, for this reason, I was left with questions which, perhaps, have no answers. The family drama in itself, however, is well worth exploration by readers interested in medical-based novels. Certainly is a fascinating and extraordinary story for your consideration...


About the Author

CHRISTIAN JUNGERSEN's first novel, Thickets, won the Best First Novel award in Denmark in 1999 and also became a bestseller. His second novel, The Exception, won two of Denmark's highest literary awards, remained on the country's top-ten bestseller list for an unprecedented eighteen months, and was published in over fifteen countries. Jungersen lives in Dublin, Ireland, but returns frequently to Copenhagen.

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