stranger and stranger

To those who wave, and to those who do not.

1 April 2001

Dear reader,

I'm sure that what you are about to read is far from what you are expecting.

I hope that most of what I have written speaks for itself. However, there is one particular curiosity that I anticipate in the reader - the question of what exactly it is that is wrong with me and how this has affected my life. Of course, the most natural instinct in the world would be for me to write about my condition and experiences, and indeed that is something that I hope to do, but not until I am better. The reasons for this are straightforward. Firstly, my limitations are such that I do not believe it would be sensible to use so much of my limited capabilities to write about those limited capabilities - it might very soon become a book about writing a book, and my need is to try to escape my condition rather than immerse myself further within its reality. Secondly, it doesn't have an ending yet.

Throughout the course of my illness I have written bits and pieces - letters, diary entries, short essays - with my book in mind, but for the most part I have resisted the temptation to include them here. I felt that if I began to include those things I might very well end up writing the book that I have decided not to write at this time.

Robert McMullen


"Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?"

Henry the Fourth - Part Two 2 iv

It all started with a review that I posted at, soon after my release from hospital. In fact, thatís not true. It all started a long time before I posted my review, but this chapter, this small but significant part of my story started there and then, wherever it is that a virtual shop exists. It was a very difficult time for me, and this most unlikely encounter served as a welcome distraction from my difficulties.

My capabilities at this time were extremely limited. I did not have a stairlift and was consequently confined to the upstairs of my house. I was determined to try to do whatever I could at a time when, in addition to my physical health, my mental health was of considerable concern to both myself and also, I assume, those around me.

Having only recently regained sufficient concentration to enable me to read books again, I decided that it would be constructive to try to read as much as I could and to endeavour to review every book that I completed. This served the dual purpose of being both enjoyable and also giving me something constructive to show for what few capabilities I had.

Nick Hornbyís High Fidelity and Fever Pitch had been sitting on my shelf for some time. I had been given them for Christmas some time previously and had been frustrated that my concentration had not been sufficient to enable me to read them.

Whilst I could not recommend my experience to anyone, there have nevertheless been some small consolations, as I believe there are with any bad experience. I like to believe that no matter how insufferable things may be there are always some consolations on which, if one is to survive, one should endeavour to dwell as much as oneís blinkered optimism can possibly stand. The only consolation I could find in not having sufficient concentration to read was that I hoped I would appreciate it that little bit more when eventually I could. There were certainly times when I would look up at my bookshelf in frustration and wonder whether I might not have been better off had I stemmed my optimism and requested something other than books for Christmas (not that more useful alternatives readily sprang to mind). Having lain in bed for so long, wishing that I could at least survive the time by escaping into someone elseís world, I like to think that when finally I was able to work my way through first one book and then another I was able to appreciate it that little bit more than would otherwise have been possible. And even if that is not true, it does me no harm to believe that it is.

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

Not bad for a Gooner.

In High Fidelity Nick Hornby offers the reader an access all areas pass to the workings of Rob Flemingís mind. And being as we are, we head straight for the VIP lounge, where the topics of conversation are invariably relationships and Top Five, best or worst, ďwhateversĒ of all time.

Rob works in his own second hand record shop with a couple of social misfits who are united by their obsessive interest in non-classical music Ė that, and the fact that they are all (self-consciously) male, living in the 1990s, single (initially) and seemingly going nowhere with their lives.

Rob, who narrates this novel in the first person, has just been dumped in favour of his former upstairs neighbour. This ignites within him a neurotic sense of sexual failure, and sends him back to delve into the archives of his adolescent, sexual awakenings.

Hornby's characters are both believable and complementary, whilst his uncomplicated style makes for effortless reading. Right from the start I cared about the characters and how this chapter in their lives would finally unfold.

It is said that the way to paint a great watercolour is to make it look as though one has just thrown the paint down casually and let it flow around the paper, untempered. In actual fact, the artist has probably spent a good deal of time, making sketches, deciding upon the composition, calculating the perspective, agonising over the colour balance and, finally, gently caressing the paint around the paper to achieve the desired effect. In "High Fidelity" Nick Hornby writes, as I would like to paint in watercolour.

The real test, though, is whether ďHigh FidelityĒ would feature in my Top Ten best novels of all time? It probably wouldnít, but it might feature in my Top Five humorous, contemporary novels of all time.

Finally, I must add that, given the authorís footballing affiliations, I complement this novel grudgingly Ė but then, as Rob himself concludes, ďitís not what you like but what youíre like thatís importantĒ.

Rob McMullen, 1999

Part One

"How many times have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The sign of Four (1890)

The emails that you are about to read were all actually sent and received. Tempting though it may have been to revise some of the content, in order to save embarrassment or to paint myself in a better light, I have decided to remain faithful to the words (and some typos) that were written at the time. Although, in the absence of any other sources, I suppose you will just have to take my word for this.

Some names and references have been changed purely to protect the innocent.

© 2005 Robert McMullen. All rights reserved.

If you have enjoyed reading this extract from "stranger and stranger" and would like to order a copy of the book, please follow one of the links below. The new afterword in which Robert writes about his diagnosis for the first time is currently only available in the new ebook edition. At least 30% of the purchase price of ebooks boughts from Amazon stores will be donated to charities funding biomedical ME research, including ME Research UK. ME is also known as ME/CFS and CFIDS.

stranger and stranger by Robert McMullen
stranger and stranger by Robert McMullen

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