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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

My Year Off

Robert McCrum

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To purchase My Year Off

Title: My Year Off
Author: Robert McCrum
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1998
Length: 225 pages
Availability: My Year Off - US
My Year Off - UK
My Year Off - Canada
Mein Jahr draußen - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : A simple, unambitious account of the author's life after being felled by a stroke, and successful enough as that

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 12/9/1998 .
Entertainment Weekly B+ 16/10/1998 Vanessa V. Friedman
New Statesman D 23/10/1998 Charlotte Raven
The NY Times A- 6/11/1998 Sherwin B. Nuland
The NY Times Book Review A 11/10/1998 Abraham Verghese
The Times C+ 8/10/1998 Tim Lott
USA Today 12/11/98 A 12/11/1998 Ann Prichard

  From the Reviews:
  • "My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke is a hopeful tale -- these days he can walk unaided, speak almost normally, enjoy his baby daughter -- but it isn't as searingly personal as similar memoirs. This stroke survivor is English, after all, so his stiff upper lip rarely quivers." - Vanessa V. Friedman, Entertainment Weekly

  • "For all its undoubted pretensions, My Year Off is little more than a standard illness-bore account of an unexpected physical crisis." - Charlotte Raven, New Statesman

  • "With its lucid, heartfelt prose My Year Off gives voice to the millions of people who suffer from strokes." - Abraham Verghese, The New York Times Book Review

  • "... a decent and straightforward account of what would be a hellish blow for anyone" - Tim Lott, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Subtitled Rediscovering Life after a Stroke this is the story of Robert McCrum, longtime editor in chief of Faber & Faber and would-be novelist, who suffered a stroke in 1995, at the age of 42, a mere two months after marrying. In a well-meaning manner McCrum details most of what he went through, from the stroke through the various stages of recovery. The stroke was severe, but not completely debilitating, and by the end of his narrative McCrum's life has returned to near normalcy.
       McCrum is comfortable in a literary world. He knows how to write and the book is an easy read, without jarring deficiency. Stylistically it is uneven -- McCrum bogs down in literary quotes, and there are times when there are too many parenthetical asides -- but it is harmless enough. As to the narrative itself: it is a reasonable and somewhat affecting account, told fairly straightforwardly. McCrum uses the space to thank the many people who were helpful during his time of need, which can get tiring, and some of the name-dropping seems pointless too, but overall it is a nice book. The quotes from his and his wife's diaries from the time lend the book some imminence, though we preferred the more distanced examination of the illness.
       McCrum's ruminations are rarely profound, but do give us some insight into the concerns of someone who has suffered such an "insult to the brain." Some points seem bizarre to us: one of the few things his doctors are concerned about after the stroke is his cholesterol level, but he describes the hospital breakfast in his first days there as including "a choice of sausage or bacon." British humour ? An NHS joke ? He also tries to explain some of the medical aspects of injury to the brain, at one point suggesting unclearly that after a stroke "irreversible brain damage will occur within fifteen to thirty minutes of the initial deprivation, unless blood flow resumes." The consequences he tries to describe are somewhat ineptly put: without blood flow irreversible damage obviously occurs much sooner. Given that he can not explain such a simple fact entirely clearly, we have our concerns about more complex facts he relates.

       People seem to enjoy reading about other people's suffering, so they might enjoy this. Families and friends of those similarly stricken might find comfort here (it does come with the bonus of having a happy ending), but otherwise it is not that useful a book and we can find little reason to recommend it.

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My Year Off: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Biographical works under review
  • Iain Sinclair's Sorry Meniscus, in which Mr. McCrum's support of the Millennium Dome is ... analyzed.

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About the Author:

       Long time editor of Faber & Faber, British author Robert McCrum is also a sometime novelist. He was born in 1955.

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