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The Brain in Fiction

Marco Roth has written an article in n+1 The Rise of the Neuronovel which is pretty heavy-going but does bring up some thought provoking ideas. Roth has identified a new trend in literary fiction which he has labelled neuronovels or neurological fiction. The workings of the mind is certainly not a new theme, however we live in an age where the workings of the mind are classified and labelled. People, who in previous decades, might be considered odd or left of center, are now likely to have a diagnosed condition or syndrome. Neuronovels examine the world or a situation from the perspective of the disordered mind. Neurological fiction is not limited to literary fiction. Roth identifies thrillers as a genre which explores this theme.

Consider Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and a photographic memory who, despite being emotionally out of step with the world, is still a complex character.

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball is the story of an amnesia patient who must recollect her life by retelling her stories over and over. It’s a complex novel that leaves one story dangling to tell another only the pick up the earlier thread in a completely different direction.

Bipolar disorders can lead to impulsive and self-destructive behaviors. Holly Krauss, in Nicci French’s thriller Catch Me When I Fall, drinks to excess and engages in unwise and promiscuous relationships. Her behaviour makes it hard for the reader to be sympathetic for her predicament. Surely not an unusual problem for individuals suffering with this illness.


The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey tackles the growing problem of Alzheimer’s Disease. The reader can’t be certain to entirely trust Jake’s perception of his life. As the disease progresses the novel becomes dreamlike with passages of stream of consciousness reflections.

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