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Book review
Illness as Narrative
  1. Kathy Behrendt
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kathy Behrendt, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3C5; kbehrendt{at}

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Ann Jurecic. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012, paperback, 192 pages. ISBN 978-8229-6190-1, £21.50.

With Illness as Narrative, Ann Jurecic seeks to reclaim the validity of illness narratives from the still dominant ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ in literary criticism and its allies. That widespread faction, when not ignoring illness narratives entirely, tends to dismiss them for their earnestness, naïveté, subjectivity and affectivity. Illness narratives are pragmatic and not theoretical. Like much life writing, they disregard the social, political and cultural powers that shape discourse, and therefore, they simply fall out of the jurisdiction of legitimate scholarly consideration. Or so the criticisms go. Jurecic does not wish to discount the established critical climate, but to expose its inadequacies, in particular, its neglect of our ordinary motives for writing and reading illness narratives. It is these motives that she thinks must be brought to bear in any serious critical treatment. She looks first at the history of personal accounts of illness, and then devotes separate chapters to risk narratives, narratives about pain, Susan Sontag's seismic shift from theory to fiction, the changes that have occurred in theory, and the prospects for reforming how illness narratives are read. Throughout, Jurecic supplies important lessons for readers of these texts, be they theorists, educators in the medical humanities, or the general public.

Many well-chosen examples of illness narratives illustrate her case, including novels, journalism, ethnography, memoirs (‘misery’ and otherwise), conventional tales of struggle and recovery, genre-busting experimental works, and the narratives of some who would normally be most comfortable on the theoretical side of any theoretical/pragmatic divide (eg, Foucault, Stephen Jay Gould, Sontag, Bruno Latour). Jurecic is exceptionally sensitive to the individual character of each of her chosen texts. She accepts that not all live up to the expectations of conventional narrative, while others exploit those conventions in such a fashion as to undermine their own …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.