King's College London
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Parkinson of the disease

Take me home

Opening showing a photograph of the author, Jonathan Taylor, with his father on the boat to Locarno. With accompanying textOpening showing a photograph of the author, Jonathan Taylor, with his father on the boat to LocarnoTake me home is a memoir by the literary scholar Jonathan Taylor about his father, John, who, when Jonathan was only eight, began to forget his name.

Sometime afterwards John started to shake and to mistake his son for someone else. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and Jonathan (then in his teens) became one of his carers.

Early in his memoir Jonathan writes:

It’s May 1995, and I’m cross. In a test conducted this morning on my father, he has failed to distinguish between a photo of me and a photo of Humphrey Bogart. This might have been flattering, had he not gone on to mistake Bogart for a giraffe…

Once capable of reciting from almost all of Shakespeare’s plays, John sustains many losses as a result of the disease. The experience emerges in a voice free from the constricting modes of medical seeing and narrating.

Cover of Take me home: Parkinson’s, my father, myself, with white text on red backgroundCover of Take me home: Parkinson’s, my father, myselfJonathan is frank about his teenage self:

…we’re sitting outside a hotel…My father is on the bench next to me, his hand is tremoring … I’m not taking any notice because the waitress has long eyelashes, and I’m wondering how to chat her up. My father notices my lack of notice, or notices my notice of her eyelashes…He shouts at her: ‘Take me back. They’ve kidnapped me.’

The tragicomedy of this situation contrasts with the indignities which John suffers as a hospital patient, such as being left naked on a hospital bed and alone in a bathroom.

Take me home and other illness memoirs chart the pervasive effect of disease on the lives of sufferers in narratives which emphasise that there is much more to caring for people who are ill than naming the disease, understanding its pathology and its responsiveness to medication, however complicated and important these turn out to be.

These images are reproduced with the kind permission of Jonathan Taylor and Granta Books.

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