Book title: The enumerations
Author: Máire Fisher
It is always a gamble to pick up a book written by an author whose work one is unfamiliar with. But it is a risk worth taking. Such was the case when I set out to read The enumerations by South African author Máire Fisher. The enumerations is not Fisher’s debut, as this book was preceded by a book called Birdseye, which I have not read. The enumerations can be described as a psychological drama, and tackles the issue of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The enumerations explores the family Groome’s experiences of their son, Noah, who suffers from OCD. The family resides in Cape Town and their lives are consumed by Noah’s disorder. In fact, their lives revolve around Noah and OCD.
What do I know about OCD? I ask myself. What do I really know? Not much, as I have never been exposed to it. I can remember many years ago, there used to be an American television series called Monk, which I used to watch with my family. The main protagonist in this show was a detective by the name of Adrian Monk (portrayed by Tony Shalhoub), and this character suffered from OCD. For the purposes of the TV show, the idea was to find Mr Monk’s obsessive compulsive disorder funny. Mr Monk was always rearranging everything. Everything simply had to be perfect. However, Fisher’s novel presents one with a far less romantic picture of OCD. It is a quite disruptive disorder that can have serious consequences for families. It is often this way with psychological or physical disorders, that many people’s first exposure to them comes through television, which might not always be a healthy presentation of the realities.
From the outset, Fisher is weaving different stories into one, but it takes quite some time before the link between the stories becomes clear. The bulk of the text in the novel, however, focuses on the Groome family, with Noah very early on running into trouble with his peers at school. Noah’s sister, Maddie, has learned to love Noah for who he is. She understands him like few others. And she is always ready to defend him against the constant bullying that he has to endure at school. When Noah is forced to leave home, Maddie finds herself not used to not having Noah as the centre of attention in the Groome household, and having to readjust to this proves a challenge. This is in stark contrast to Noah and Maddie’s father, Dominic, who becomes more and more withdrawn as the story unfolds, but seems to prefer Noah’s absence in the family. Noah’s strange ways also never go down well with his peers, and he ends up in a dispute with a classmate. Through the process of mediation, the Groome family agrees to find expert help for Noah. In this way, Noah soon finds himself at an institution called Greenhills, a place for children with special needs, where he undergoes therapy for his OCD. The story of The enumerations is basically the story of Noah’s time spent at Greenhills, where he has to learn to let go of his obsession to control everything that is happening around him.
Disgruntled with her husband Dominic’s reaction to their son Noah’s OCD, Kate constantly tries to hold the family together, but this proves to be a real challenge. She ends up visiting Noah alone with Maddie at Greenhills, where she has serious doubts about her relationship with Dominic. For Noah, however, Greenhills slowly but surely proves to be a blessing that no one would ever have been able to foresee. Despite Noah’s constant longing to be released from Greenhills, the experiences he has and the friends he makes eventually have a lasting impact on him and change him for the better.
At times, the pace of this novel might come across as too slow; however, the moment that the different stories start to gel, The enumerations quickly becomes a real page-turner, with a surprising twist at the end. This is a wonderful book that sensitised me a great deal to the issue of OCD. Some of the characters, in particular that of Dominic, at times come across as lacking in nuance, but as the novel progresses, especially towards the end, a more comprehensive picture of Dominic emerges. The unusual subject matter of The enumerations – that of a young man suffering from OCD and his family’s experiences thereof – makes for a wonderful theme for this novel. The enumerations is certainly a novel that I recommend to anyone, especially anyone with an interest in psychology and the issue of OCD. It is clear that a lot of research went into writing this novel, and the result is a book that not only entertains, but also educates.