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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

On the blink

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 23 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6072
  1. John Quin, consultant physician, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton
  1. John.Quin{at}

A novelist’s frank account of her struggle with the torment of alcoholism and severe blepharospasm offers a definitive gaze at a damaged self, writes John Quin

Candia McWilliam published her first novel in 1988, drawing praise both for her polished prose and her striking looks. Not since Truman Capote had an author’s photograph provoked such a torrent of chatter. Sixteen years have passed since her last novel—so what happened? Here we find out: a torrid struggle with alcohol and the excruciating torment of severe blepharospasm. For 22 hours a day she couldn’t open her eyes. She was thus functionally blind, prone to accidents and “functioning” only fleetingly, describing her odd appearance thus: “In order to gain sight, I grimace, stretch, peer and . . . hold taut and high my already rather camel-like head with the result that I look . . . like the caricature of a snob.”

Marinating in self disgust she sees herself as “a monstrous dowager with Tourettian facial tics and the creep-and-lurch gait of a not sufficiently …

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