The Sickness is a novel about a doctor, his father, the doctor’s secretary and one obsessed hypochondriac. But mostly it is about sickness. The novel concerns a perfectly healthy man convinced he is gravely ill and a very sick man who doesn’t know he has terminal cancer because his own son and doctor cannot bring himself to break the news.
Dr Miranda is a believer in telling the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. He has always advocated a no-nonsense approach towards the patients and has never had any difficulties – until now, when the patient is his father and he has to tell him he only has a few weeks to live.
Meanwhile in the background, another patient of his, Ernesto Durán, is convinced he is dying and resorts to stalking his doctor who ignores him and his pleas. Dr Miranda’s secretary using her boss’s absent-mindedness passes herself off as her boss and engages in email correspondence with Durán. It soon metamorphoses itself from an innocent pastime into a dangerous sickness as well. While Dr Miranda is trying to find the right words to say to his father, his patient and his secretary are slowly going mad.
You might argue that 150 pages is not quite enough to tackle such a difficult subject as life, sickness and death. And you might also argue that a couple of months isn’t enough to come to terms with our own mortality. Sadly, sometimes it’s all we are going to be given. Death won’t wait until we are ready and the book’s brevity could easily be interpreted as a symbol of our fleeting nature.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka made the best of his 150 pages partly thanks to his knack for saying what’s important in little quips like this one:
“Blood is a terrible gossip, it tells everything”
It is also clear that he has done his homework and read everything that was produced on the subject of sickness in the history of the written word. And he wants you to know it, so the book is peppered with clumsy interjections such as:
“Perhaps he‘s remembering that novel by Louis Ferdinand Céline, in which a doctor ‘described illness as he would describe a face of an old acquaintance’. That is what weighs on Andrés now.”
This is really the only fault of this otherwise good novel which meanders slowly around the events. Suspense has been sacrificed to sadness and the melancholy of things calmly burning out.
It should be a compulsory read on the subject which is becoming more and more intimidating and difficult to deal with within our society.