The Back of the Book: After seven years of hoping but ultimately failing to find enlightenment, Karen Armstrong left her early life as a nun. She knew almost nothing of the changed world she was entering, and was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures, existing somewhere between the mildly eccentric and the tragically certifiable. Her attempts to reach happiness seemed domed to fail repeatedly.
Temporary respite of a sort was discovered in encounters with some remarkable friends and colleagues and with the extraordinary few who, like herself, seemed somehow separated from the world. Finally diagnosed with epilepsy and given proper treatment, she began the writing career that would become her true calling.
Written with startling perception and astonishing sensitivity The Spiral Staircase is an exploration of one woman’s painful journey to find herself and claim her place in the world.
NotJustLaura’s Review: This is Ms Armstrong’s second volume of memoir and, in fact, her second published attempt to tell the world what happened when she left her convent and re-entered it. The first was published as Beginning the World which is now out of print. Ms Armstrong says she’s happy about this – I wonder how she feels about it being available for 1p on Amazon? Out of respect for the author I shall refrain from buying a copy!
The Spiral Staircase is an often sombre recollection of Ms Armstrong’s struggle to return to ‘normal’ life. I was touched by her struggle with undiagnosed epilepsy in particular as I have also done battle with an undiagnosed and invisible illness. It’s not easy to live in the world with a dysfunctional brain even when you’ve lived there all your life. I can only imagine what it was like to return to it after seven years of convent austerity. Once she is diagnosed, Ms Armstrong begins a struggle to find the correct medication and, again, I could relate and imagine how hard that must have been while assimilating to the inevitable changes of the world outside the convent.
Throughout this book, I found it easy to place myself in Ms Armstrong’s shoes. This is clearly due in part to my own life experiences but it was aided by her sharp, clear prose. Ms Armstrong does not flinch from the truth and yet shows so much compassion for those she writes about. She does not lay blame with convent, doctors or herself for her troubles. Instead, she lays the facts before the reader and allows him to make up his own mind. Isn’t that what autobiography’s supposed to be about?