Liam Durcan, a consultant neurologist at McGill University, returns to the literary world following the success of his first novel, Garcia’s Heart — for which he won the Arthur ELLIS Best First Novel award in 2008 — with The Measure of Darkness (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016). This second book is the story of Martin, a distinguished architect who emerges from a coma to discover that his life has changed. He is suffering from neglect syndrome, a brain injury that leaves him unaware of any deficit. People suffering from neglect syndrome are unaware of half of the stimuli in their environment. In an extreme case a person with neglect who is asked to draw a clockface will only draw the number from 12 to 6 whilst believing that they have drawn a whole clock and they may only eat the food from one side of their plate. In Martin’s case they test for his neglect with the often used line bisection test where the patient is asked to draw a line that bisects the one that the doctor has drawn on a piece of paper. The bisecting line is usually drawn to one side, only bisecting the section of the line that the patient can “see.” This is a career ending injury for an architect.
As we travel with Martin through his recovery and acceptance of his condition we are introduced to his estranged brother and his daughters. We are introduced to a world where many of the characters demonstrate “neglect” in certain aspects of their lives even without having suffered the injuries that Martin has gone through. Martin’s obsession with the Soviet architect Konstantin Melnikov allows him to draw parallels with his own career, having being removed from the commission of a lifetime and being declared unfit to practice following the car accident that placed Martin in the coma. It is Martin’s therapeutic writing of Melnikov’s story that allows him to reflect on his visit to the USSR when he was a student and finally reveals to Martin what happened the night of his accident. He fears that having lost his career he may end up like Melnikov: “But what these men really want to know, like all the others who came before, is how you managed to survive without building anything for forty years. Do you see the incomprehension in the eyes of the student?” (198). Continue reading “Book Review: The Measure of Darkness”