Kruger, Naomi orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0194-8333 (2018) May. Seren. ISBN 9781781724286

[thumbnail of Author Accepted Manuscript [Whole Book]] PDF (Author Accepted Manuscript [Whole Book]) - Accepted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only


Official URL:


May is a polyphonic novel partly narrated by the eponymous character, a Lancashire housewife and mother in the later stages of dementia. May is haunted by the memory of a mysterious red-haired boy and repeatedly tries to search for the truth, to piece together the past in order to find him. Her fragmented, circadian account of life in a care home is the spine of the book, a present absence, a gravitational field, a broken chain of narratives. Her ‘voice’ is interrupted by other lives, other voices: her husband Arthur, her daughter Karen, her grandson Alex, and finally Afsana, the only Care Assistant she feels she can trust.
This structure reflects the fact that May is not simply a tragic figure ‘descending into darkness’ but a woman connected to family and community, with a rich and complex history. Although her struggle with memory is central to the book, she is also affected by her surroundings, her embodied experience in the care home. By positioning her voice among characters who (though more articulate) also struggle with identity, memory and their place in the world, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we are all unreliable narrators to some extent, that the distance between us may not be a great as it first appears. May is not just her diagnosis. Her identity may be disintegrating but it is also complex and inter-subjective. Her difference is a matter of degree rather than a matter of kind.
May’s lack of narrative agency might also offer important insight into wider narrative expectations and the significant intersections between memory, story and the reading process. If memory is indeed a textual phenomenon, and if we are narrative beings, then narrative (and its lack) could be at the heart of what makes dementia so hard for us to encounter and accept. Producing narrative about a condition that seems fundamentally un-narratable may be ethically and aesthetically complex, but it also offers important imaginative possibilities. Not only can fiction help us to re-imagine and re-characterise dementia, but, as David Herman argues, ‘narrative itself can work to readjust the contextual parameters in terms of which people produce and understand stories.’

Repository Staff Only: item control page