Having learned of Richard Armitage’s latest film project, rather late last night I decided to purchase (via my Nook) Susannah Calahan’s harrowing account of her battle with a mysterious illness that threatened her sanity and her life. I fully intended to read a couple of chapters at most. So much for good intentions.
I stayed up until close to dawn with only 40 or so pages (including the afterword) left to go. I finished reading it this morning.
Photo tweeted by Richard Armitage as he headed back to Canada for his latest film project, based on Susannah Calahan’s best seller. Looks as if he’s started his note taking on his character, Tom Calahan, Susannah’s father.
There are best sellers that I don’t think deserve to be best sellers. Thank heavens this non-fiction account is not in that category. Susannah has to put all her well-honed journalistic skills to use to write this memoir. Her “month of madness” is all an incredibly muddled blur for the reporter, a painful period she seeks to reconstruct by interviewing medical personnel, co-workers, family members, her boyfriend and others. She reads their journal entries and watches the videotapes shot while she is in the hospital.
What she sees is this pasty-faced, underfed creature prone to seizures and hallucinations, riddled with paranoia, struggling at times to form her words. Someone who can be violent and combative, forced to wear restraints, or silent and rigidly staring into space.
That Susannah is barely recognizable as the bright, outgoing, ambitious and fiercely independent young New York Post reporter everybody knows.
The book recounts her struggle to discover what is causing her physical and mental decline as she tries to make her way back to some semblance of normality and sanity. Early on, one doctor tells her to quit drinking and going out and get more sleep and she will be just fine. Another puts her on antipsychotics for schizophrenia. Susannah is doggedly determined she is bi-polar. Physicians seemingly give up on her when a battery of medical tests and examinations keep ruling out various diseases and conditions.
However, her boyfriend Stephen and her family do not give up. The moral support they give her throughout her ordeal is inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Richard will be playing the role of Tom Calahan, father of Susannah. Tom and Susannah’s mother are divorced. Both remarried, they make a point of avoiding one another whenever possible (it was clearly not an amicable split). Yet when this crisis arises, they manage to put aside their mutual animosity to focus on their daughter and her needs. And she has never needed them more as her inflamed brain continues to attack her body.
An emotionally detached man whose relationship with his own father was strained, Tom and Susannah have never been particularly close. Behind that wall of reserve, however, beats a fiercely loyal, protective and caring heart. There is no doubt he loves his child. If he has to curse out a group of medical students so Susannah can get a little peace and quiet, then so be it. He gives her positive words to repeat like mantras. Sometimes, he cries.
I have absolutely no doubt Richard will bring all the shading, all the complexity to this role we could desire and more. He makes a great onscreen dad (think of Porter and Lexi in Strike Back, Peter Macduff in Shakespeare Retold or Gary in Into the Storm, not to mention Thorin serving as a father figure to his nephews in the TH trilogy). Plenty of opportunity to share fatherly angst and protectiveness and love here.
The fact that Susannah was able to write this book lets you know there is ultimately a happy ending for her. By sharing her story of battling what turned out to be auto-immune encephalitis, first via an article for the Post and later in her book, she has helped others with the same condition ultimately get the right diagnosis and treatment. She has given people true hope, and that is always a good thing to give.
(Above is a link to learn more about the condition)
It took courage to write her story. Courage to go back and retrace the steps of her “month of madness” and read those words, see those images, to hear how much she had frightened and dismayed those who loved her, to discover just how sick she truly was.
Calahan speaking to an audience at Yale about the early signs something was amiss. On the screen to her left are images of her in her hospital bed.
It will be a challenging role for any actress. At only 18, Chloe Grace Moretz is actually several years younger than Calahan was when she fell ill (24), yet she has a certain maturity for her age that will bode well for her portrayal. I’ve read interviews with her and was impressed with her maturity and level-headedness.
I first saw Chloe in “Let Me In,” the English language version of the Swedish horror thriller “Let the Right Ones In” and she made a strong impression on me. She was also delightful, alternating between tough crime fighter and vulnerable kid in the irreverent “Kick-Ass” and has appeared in a diverse collection of films, from the remake of “Carrie” to YA favorite “If I Stay.” It doesn’t hurt that she also bears a good resemblance to the author. Photos of both Calahan and Moretz.
The fact that the gifted actress Charlize Theron is a producer for the film is another plus for me.
I will be eager to learn more about the upcoming film, and eager to hear your own thoughts as you read Calahan’s memoir. A highly recommended read, and not just for Richard Armitage fans. The book is available for Nook and Kindle and there is an audio edition from Audible.com as well as in traditional book form.
Here’s a link to the author’s official website