After last week’s post being more on the crazy side I had intended to balance that out with a more everyday post this week. I had planned to write a bit about everyday life here such as our utterly first world problems of how to keep all the restaurants happy (every day we have to walk past loads of restaurants who all want us to come and eat there so we operate a kind of rotation system…) Or what we talk about over dinner, mainly looking up random stuff on Wikipedia as it comes up and we realise we don’t know much about it: Kashmir, the New Zealand Government, the Indian almond tree, bats and do they ever sleep at night, the life cycle of the malaria parasite (complete with diagrams) and my favourite- the Indian house crow.
But as usual as soon as I decided that, I changed my mind and went with something else and so this week’s post is mainly a book review of Turtles all the way down by John Green. This is another Young Adult book by the author of The Fault in our Stars which was made into a film. I took a morning off work once to watch the film at home in my pyjamas accompanied only by a box of tissues. If you want a good cathartic cry I thoroughly recommend it. But I read the book first and cried a lot to that as well;
I’m a grenade
I lit up like a Christmas tree
are the lines that got me the most and which those of you who have sobbed along to the book or film might remember.
Turtles all the way down is about OCD. Afterwards I looked up John Green and mental health on the internet and found that he has OCD. After the huge success of The Fault in our Stars he felt the pressure of the follow up. He started and abandoned several novels (although he did ‘cannibalize some of them for parts,’ which I liked). Interestingly he said that having written a book doesn’t necessarily help you to write future books; each one is completely different.
During this period of trying to write he thought maybe coming off his meds might help release his creativity. It didn’t and in 2015 he got the most unwell he’d ever been. That is a point he makes, that his mental illness does not help his creativity, it hinders it. At his most unwell, his intrusive thoughts were so bad he couldn’t read a menu in a restaurant or construct a sentence.
So he wrote Turtles… about having really bad OCD and anxiety and also getting stuff done around it. The protagonist goes to school, does homework, see friends etc except for when she doesn’t. John Green had times in his life when he was unable to eat or read and just lay on the floor and drank Sprite. When he has to do press he takes a friend with him who answers the questions if he can’t. They relate a story of being in Brazil doing an interview when John Green lost consciousness or awareness for a few seconds, came to and said, I’m sorry I’m having a panic attack, and his friend took over for him.
Turtles all the way down spoiler alert
The book doesn’t really have a happy ending as such. It flashes forward to a future where although the protagonist has grown up, been to college, got a job and had children, she has remained ‘mentally ill’ and has at times been unable to care for her children and been hospitalised, but then come out again. This could be looked at as sad and as a reflection on the fact that John Green still has OCD and anxiety, it hasn’t ‘been cured’.
The fact that someone can live a successful life and at the same time be living with a mental health problem could be seen as sad (sad that they are still suffering or have times when they are suffering) and at the same time it is also encouraging (that a person can live a successful life despite having a mental health problem). As the book says, in life there aren’t any happy endings, it just carries on, some things get better and other things get worse.
My favourite bit in the book (and the bit that encourages me the most because it finds a third way of thinking that isn’t black or white or either or and is more about acceptance than about pushing away) is where they talk about how cities used to always be built around a good strong river for transportation and industry. But in the book the protagonist’s best friend describes a city that was built around a river that wasn’t good or strong. But the city became a great city anyway.
‘You’re not the river,’ the friend says, ‘You’re the city.’
We both got restless at the same time. My husband has booked trains (this involves trips to the train station with passports and the filling out of faded tiny print forms) and accommodation for a night away on Monday in a surprise (for me) destination!
Having this section on the blog really helps me! This week I completed a draft of Goa Part Two (Anjuna, Arambol, Panaji) and my husband read it and gave me suggestions over dinner, which I noted down using paper and pen borrowed from the waiter. I started Kerala! Which is where we are now so feels ‘near’ and ‘easy,’ even though as we’ve been here since the end of April I have tons of material in notebooks and blogs to go through. Still, onwards and upwards…
Thank you very much for reading
See you next week