And Finally – Henry Marsh

Published By: Penguin Random House
Pages: 240
Released On: 01/09/2022

As a retired brain surgeon, Henry Marsh thought he understood illness, but he was unprepared for the impact of his diagnosis of advanced cancer. And Finally explores what happens when someone who has spent a lifetime on the frontline of life and death finds himself contemplating what might be his own death sentence. As he navigates the bewildering transition from doctor to patient, he is haunted by past failures and projects yet to be completed, and frustrated by the inconveniences of illness and old age. But he is also more entranced than ever by the mysteries of science and the brain, the beauty of the natural world and his love for his family. Elegiac, candid, luminous and poignant, And Finally is ultimately not so much a book about death, but a book about life and what matters in the end.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I’ve ready the first two books by Henry Marsh – “Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery” and “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery” – and thought they were exceptional so was thrilled to hear he’d written another. Whilst the first two were more about his profession as a neurologist and neurosurgeon, this bois predominately about is cancer journey and that change from Doctor to Patient. Whilst equally as informative, it doesn’t have the same tone to it and some bits are rather upsetting, especially if you’ve followed his story closely, it’s almost like it’s happening to a friend.

I don’t feel comely comfortable reviewing this as simply a book – it is so much more than ‘just’ a book. It documents his own advanced cancer diagnosis and is less about neurology and his profession. It might not be for everyone. If you have a similar story to me (I lost my dad in 2017 to oesophageal cancer and my uncle in 2020 to prostate cancer), it may not be a comfortable book to read as he doesn’t pull any punches and he doesn’t sugar coat things. I personally found it interesting to push through the discomfort and see cancer from a doctor-as-patient perspective.

Much like the other two, there is a lot of medical terminology as well as scientific topics and philosophical thoughts. I admit, some went over my head but it’s not surprising that a book like this would be full of technical speech.

I read his previous books when I was awaiting a decision as to whether I would need brain surgery or not. Luckily I didn’t, but my subsequent neurological diagnosis and years in and out of hospital has given me a deeper understanding and respect for neurologists and neurosurgeons. The idea that you’re using your brain to learn about and fix the brain is fascinating to me.

This book did feel a bit incoherent, more that he’s put his personal ramblings down on paper. It jumps from one topic to another and back, some not obviously relevant, and it didn’t really have the flow of his previous one, but I suppose this is a more personal offering so has more of that stream-of-consciousness feel.

It makes me sad to think this is likely to be his last book on the topic. They’ve been a real comfort and source of information in my difficult health times.

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