Patience by Victoria Scott is our NB Recommends for August and is a eye-opening, sincere and beautiful debut novel that follows the Willow family, in particular disabled daughter, Patience, who suffers from Rett Syndrome.
Review by Jade Craddock
There has rightly been a push in recent years towards more diversity in literature, but perhaps one of the areas still under-explored is that of disability, so it is really refreshing and encouraging to read Victoria Scott’s hugely impressive debut, Patience.
The novel centres on the eponymous, Patience Willow, a woman in her thirties who suffers from the rare illness, Rett Syndrome, which causes severe disability and crucially leaves her unable to talk or communicate, not least with her family who care for her. Victoria Scott takes the reader to the heart of the Willow family – mother Louise, father Pete, older daughter Eliza and, of course, Patience herself – as the story explores the emotional, familial and physical effects of disability on all involved, and specifically the dilemma around a radical experimental gene therapy trial.
What is so brilliant about Scott’s novel is her decision to give a voice to Patience. We not only hear Patience’s first-hand thoughts on everything from respite care to the idea of being ‘normal’, but we get to experience Patience’s personality in a way that her physical disability prevents even those closest to her from sharing. She is a vibrant, witty and warm character and the reader has both the privilege of hearing her voice but is also made all the more aware of the travesty of Patience’s disability, which prevents her personality really being able to emerge. In voicing Patience, Victoria Scott really opens up new and important avenues of discussion when it comes to disability, and though it is both an ambitious and complex area to navigate, I genuinely felt that the novel opened my eyes and made me much more aware of issues around disability, not least the way in which society interacts and engages, or fails to, with those with a disability.
As well as Patience’s voice, Victoria Scott also gives space to each of the Willow family in turn, and this too has an important and eye-opening effect. We see the struggles of a mother, father and sister of someone with a disability – the worry, the fear, but also an honest assessment of the fatigue, the desperation. We also see the fractures and fragilities that emerge during really huge discussions around treatment and, specifically, the experimental trial, and again Victoria Scott ensures the reader is fully brought into the dilemmas and predicaments of this. Crucially, however, the novel also reminds the reader that each of these characters has their own issues, above and beyond Patience, and that struggles with work, identity and relationships do not simply stop or disappear because of Patience’s disability but rather add to and build up the pressures on these characters. Again, it is a crucial but perhaps overlooked reality and Victoria Scott deserves huge credit for so discerningly laying the whole reality of the situation bare.
It is clear that Victoria Scott writes with sincerity and understanding of her characters from a place of experience and this serves to create a really special novel that I suspect will have a tangible effect on readers.