Book Review:  Patient by Ben Watt (Penguin -1997)

Many of you will know Ben Watt as a musician, DJ and one half of the band Everything But The Girl.  However, this  is not a typical pop/rock star autobiography.  Sub-titled ‘the true story of a rare illness’, it is Ben Watt’s story of suffering a debilitating, life-threatening illness, which initially seemed to defy an accurate diagnosis and his subsequent road to recovery.  

Despite being about a very distressing period in his life, Ben Watt’s prose is lyrical, engaging and often funny.  You are drawn into his experience and can empathise with what he is going through.  He captures, very vividly, the sensations of experiencing crippling pain and the fear and bewilderment it brings.  

Most of us will not have experienced a long stay in hospital but Ben Watt captures the highs and lows brilliantly.  You feel the dislocation and alienation of being in an environment where you are no longer in control of your life and where your everyday experiences can largely be determined by whoever is providing care at that particular time.  Ben’s family visit and stay with him regularly, providing him with some much needed comfort and familiarity in the drifting seas of NHS care but you feel their helplessness and need for answers too.

At one stage in his stay, Ben’s can only signal what he wants by signalling whilst his family point to letters on a board.  Trying to anticipate his meaning in this necessarily long-winded process, his partner Tracey Thorn misinterprets in quite humorous ways.  Ben’s father struggles to get to grips with the situation and obviously feels very uncomfortable in being in the hospital.   It is difficult to criticize his father, instead we feel some sympathy that his inability to fix the situation and his discomfort at being inside a hospital is making him feel helpless.

This book is so well-written and engrossing that I would recommend it strongly to anyone.  

As an aside, Tracey Thorn’s own book ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’, about her life in the music industry is also an excellent read.  I am not a particular fan of Everything But The Girl but they write good books.