Friday, February 19, 2016

'Painkiller' by Nev Fountain -- Terrifying reality

Painkiller is the latest book by novelist and audio writer Nev Fountain -- Doctor Who fans may know him as the writer of Big Finish audios such as 'Omega' and 'Peri and the Piscon Paradox.' He was also one of our guests at the first (Re)Generation Who, and he'll be back again with us this month. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear Nicola Bryant (5/6 companion Peri) read passages from Painkiller at the con -- if you'd like to know more about that, visit our blog.

Nev was very kind in letting Oni Hartstein and myself have a sneak peek at Painkiller before it went on sale to the general public. I read it in a relatively small number of sittings -- I've always been a fan of mysteries and thrillers, but this one spoke to me right out of the gate. The narrator, you see, it a bit like me.

The story is told mostly from the POV of Monica, an older married woman suffering from debilitating chronic pain and everything that entails. Her friends and family help her where they can, but her husband seems distant and her best friend seems preoccupied and neither seems capable of truly understanding what she's going through. She endures not only the pain, which has caused her to rearrange her entire life and career, but the attitudes of people who judge her because her disability is not readily visible.

Add to that that she has reason to believe someone very close to her wants her dead. It could be the pain making her paranoid, it could be her inability to remember things clearly after her accident, or she might actually be on to something. And when she latches on to a chance to free herself of the pain and clear her mind, her loved ones seem set against it, which makes her even more suspicious.

Painkiller is a solid story that demands a second read once you find out what the story actually is (we are, after all, hearing from a whole series of unreliable narrators, and we're piecing things together along with Monica). What I found myself focusing on more than anything, though, was just how accurate the descriptions of life with chronic pain were.

I'm very fortunate that I've been free of my endometriosis for more than three years now, but the pain and exhaustion and everything they did to me are still very clear in my mind. I can summon up for myself not only what day-to-day life was like in my own body, but how the rest of the world looked at me and treated me -- both strangers and well-meaning loved ones. Monica's experiences are, naturally, somewhat different as the story is UK-based and thus entail a different breed of healthcare woes. But the majority of them hit so close to home: everything from what it does to you mentally to what it does to the people around you.

This depiction is extremely important. I mean, yes, it's important to the plot of the story for a variety of reasons that are your own to find out when you read. But I also really appreciate the fact that a book exists that depicts this life experience with such clarity. I lived through it, had to describe it to doctors and friends and family, but this frames it in ways I wish I could have. It's also simultaneously a self-examination for those of us who have gone through it, and a call to empathy for those living with someone suffering in such a way.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing Nicola read from Painkiller at (Re)Gen, and I'm especially looking forward to more and more people reading it and gaining insight into what many of us have gone through. If you're in the market for a good new thriller, I encourage you to be one of those people.

You can buy Painkiller on Amazon right now.