Judy Walters' book ‘A Million Ordinary Days' describes the impact the diagnosis of MS has had not just on Alison Wheeler but also her two daughters and her ex-husband. Each chapter is told from a different character's experience. There is an interesting scene early in the novel when Alison goes on a date. Just before she meets him, she has to rush to the toilet and doesn't make it in time. She wraps a sweater around her waist to hide the fact she has had wet herself. Her manoeuvres in trying to hide this fact from others are unfortunately familiar to a lot of people living with MS, including myself. The novel describes the frustrations of MS limiting her family life and career. She is a flawed character who doesn't handle things in the wisest way as she struggles to maintain her independence. As her symptoms slowly progress the novel doesn't shy away from the impacts of MS on her and her relationships. It is not all negative though as she manages to have a fulfilling career in social work, and it is ultimately a happy ending of sorts.
In 'The Ride Of Her Life’ by Natasha Moore, Sarah has just been diagnosed with MS and decides to go on a road trip with Dean (on his Harley Davidson) as one last fling before what she believes to be a future confined to a wheelchair. The novel is ultimately uplifting (spoiler alert!) as Natasha realises that she can continue to have an enjoyable life even with MS. I would have loved to have come across this novel when I was diagnosed as her fears were so familiar to me. Even if you are not into erotic fiction (expect plenty of thrusting and moaning), it is still refreshing to come across a person with MS in the erotic genre or any genre for that matter.
In 'So Lucky’ by Nicola Griffin (who has MS herself) we follow Mara as her relationship breaks up, she is diagnosed with MS and loses her job in the space of a week. In this short psychological thriller, Mara struggles not just with MS but in dealing with wider society's attitude to the disabled. In one scene early on after her diagnosis, she requests budget approval for a new disabled ramp in her workplace and it is immediately dismissed as not being important enough. You can feel Mara's anger and frustration as she comes up against the obstacles of living in an 'ableist' society. There are a lot of autobiographical elements even if it is a work of fiction. The author has also written about and given talks to organisations about disability access and inclusion and advises authors on disability representation in literature.
Does it matter if there are novels featuring characters with MS, especially a protagonist? It matters if you consider reading as an enjoyable way of increasing empathy. It matters that those not only with MS but other conditions are included in our wider culture. It matters that we are represented in fiction as well as other art forms. And it really matters that we are portrayed as complex characters who have other traits besides having MS.
To sign up to the MS Readathon visit www.msreadathon.ie