Tell Me the Planets by Ben Platts-Mills reviewed

Tell Me the Planets Book Cover Tell Me the Planets
Ben Platts-Mills
Non Fiction
Fig Tree

Brain surgery for illnesses like Matthew's carries with it the high risk of permanent damage. And a good proportion of trauma patients-those injured, like Sid, in accidents and fights-have non-fatal but disabling brain injuries. So in working its magic medicine has given rise to a new population. Those who would previously have died now live, in many cases a natural term, with complex neurological impairments. In the absence of adequate support as many as 80% of these survivors experience mental health problems, many are isolated and 70% are long term unemployed. The suicide rate for survivors is four times that of the general population. After more than ten years working with brain injury survivors, I have learned both the joy and the horror of survival.

Tell Me the Planets by Ben Platts-Mills starts off with a quote from Oliver Sacks, a man whose books I am a fan of. We then meet Matthew who is exceptionally intelligent and brain injured. Sid is the next person we are introduced too. Again brain injured, he is not as fluent or lucid as Matthew. He also requires some distraction from his regular question “can I have a cigarette now?”. Both of these people are survivors who are seen at Headway (East London) by the author. Over this book we are introduced to other Headway survivors and their stories.

To start with I found the reading easy and was caught up in Matthew’s story particularly. During the book other brain injured people are introduced. The stories varied rather for me. Some were more interesting than others. I realise that I had a proof copy of this book however there was little or no signposting about the time periods or who the text referred to in my copy. Equally, within individual stories there was no real continuity and little to indicate whether a section was about an earlier time or not. This very unstructured approach didn’t hold me very well sadly.

Ultimately I found myself happily engaged with Matthew’s story whenever it appeared in the Tell Me the Planets. One or two of the other people’s stories certainly interested me however the rather random and disjointed approach to telling their stories didn’t work well for me. This book does contain some very worthwhile stories about brain injured people and, peripherally, the excellent work that Headway does for them. It may take patience and digging to get the best out of this book however.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review