Why does illness create such a marked need for story? Why do we want to read about other people’s illnesses and talk or write about our own? At the most basic level, it is surely because human beings always need stories. Indeed, neuroscientists believe that narrative consciousness is hard-wired into our brains. But what is it about illness in particular that invites narrative? Sociologist Arthur Frank suggests that a crucial aspect is that illness threatens us physically, existentially, and spiritually. In The Twelfth Raven, poet and psychologist Doris Brett confronts these threats with honesty and clarity. The result is an illness memoir as memorable as Eating the Underworld (2001), her remarkable book about ovarian cancer.
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Rachel Robertson is a West Australian writer and lecturer in professional writing at Curtin University. She was the joint winner (with Mark Tredinnick) of the 2008 Australian Book Review Calibre Prize for Outstanding Essay. Rachel’s essays and short fiction have been published in anthologies and journals such as Griffith Review, Island, Life Writing, Westerly, and Best Australian Essays 2008. She is the author of Reaching One Thousand: A Story of Love, Motherhood and Autism (2012) and co-editor of Purple Prose (2015).
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