The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee
In this “disquieting” debut novel, Tom Lee explores “how briskly the pleasures that we take for granted can vanish”, said Leaf Arbuthnot in The Sunday Times. When James Orr wakes one morning, everything seems normal until his wife catches sight of him: “The left half of Orr’s face, recently mildly handsome, is sloping off like wax.” He has been struck by Bell’s palsy, a condition causing facial paralysis, and the novel examines how the affliction gnaws away at his sense of self. While obviously indebted to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, this is an original, compelling work, with plot twists that “feel satisfyingly right”.
This absorbing novel, inspired by Lee’s own bouts of ill health, can be read in different ways, said Chris Power in The Guardian: as an exploration of physical illness, as a metaphor for society’s rejection of otherness or as a portrait of psychological disintegration. Lee’s writing is notable for his ability to take “normal, even mundane situations and nudge them out of true”, so that his characters are propelled into “positions of strangeness and danger”.