Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's

Fictional Characters with Parkinson’s


Image from Wikimedia Commons. Contributed by Pratheep P S, www.pratheep.comI recently read – and reviewed – a book that had a character with Parkinson’s in it. He was a minor character, it is true, and an elderly gentleman, which does not break any stereotypes, but he was there, he was fairly represented, and, in fact, he led the main characters to an important clue.

“A pensioner […] Jarl Hammar is a thin man who is clearly suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He is neatly dressed in a cardigan, with a handkerchief knotted around his neck.”

 – Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist

Jarl is a widower, who states, on being asked whether he knew anything of events in the apartment block one recent morning, that he is “on medication. It makes me sleep very heavily.” He waves a “shaky” arm, and speaks in a “hoarse, shaky voice.” The clue is derived from his cleaning lady, who is  – fortunately – present when the detective calls.

That’s pretty much it. He’s barely there. But he does come across with a kind of quiet dignity, and extreme gentleness, which is nice (particularly as the book features some decidedly non-gentle acts elsewhere).

Try as I might, I find it difficult to think of any other fictional representations of Parkinson’s in novels. Now, I do tend to read quite a lot* – much of it fiction – but I’ve only known that I have Parkinson’s for less than 2 years, so there’s a good chance that a multitude of minor characters have slipped by me in the past without me registering their condition.

Of course, there’s Maggie in Love and Other Drugs – a fictional character introduced into a true story to spice it up for the movie. As I noted a while back, the book that the film was based on (Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman) contained no Maggie – in fact, no long term post-Pfizer girlfriend at all, let alone one who suffers from Young Onset Parkinson’s.

Can you think of any characters in novels who have Parkinson’s?


*That is an understatement.


21 thoughts on “Fictional Characters with Parkinson’s

  1. Rohinton Mistry, Family Matters has a character with Parkinson’s:

    from Amazon

    “As an epigraph to his humane and generous novel Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry uses a reverse version of Tolstoy’s words from Anna Karenina–“Each happy family is happy in its own way, but all unhappy families resemble one another”. The unhappy family in this book belongs to Nariman Vakeel, an elderly, retired English teacher in Bombay. His stepson Jal and stepdaughter Coomy look after the old man, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, but a street accident renders him even more in need of help. Resentfully Jal and Coomy provide it but, when opportunity offers, they deliver Nariman into the care (and flat) of his daughter Roxana, the much-loved offspring of what was an otherwise loveless marriage. Roxana is married with two children and lives in cramped conditions that the arrival of the now bed-ridden old man makes worse. The tensions of the present and rankling discontents from the past collide as Mistry’s narrative unfolds. At the heart of the story is the literal claustrophobia of the flat and the metaphorical claustrophobia of a family bound tightly together by the deeply ambivalent emotions of its members but Family Matters is not a limited or restricted novel. “

    • I haven’t read any of Mistry’s books to date, but it sounds like I should be looking into his works…

      Post script: That’s a very powerful novel. Thank you for telling me about it.

      See my review here.

  2. alfred who is the narrator’s father in jonathan franzen’s ‘the corrections’ had parkinson’s

    • Thank you! You know, for some reason I hadn’t got around to reading that yet. I shall have to put it on my list, now…

      Edit: I’m currently reading this. It’s a fascinating book; the author seems to have a pretty good grasp of many aspects of PD, and the multiple character perspective keeps a reader involved. My bookmark’s currently roughly in the middle of the volume, and I’d say that this is where a few key elements of the tale really come into their own. Anyway, review to come – expect to see it in a week or two…

      Edit: Link to review.

  3. Well, if you are talking fiction you will find characters with IT in the bible albeit under a different guise. What sacrilege is this, the bible fiction!! Beat me with the leather brother.
    I have been reading since Matt Braddock was a boy and Alf Tupper had not tried fish and chips and I can honestly say that not a single character springs to mind. This is a niche market ready for exploitation. Your blog intrigues me but having finished with the big books I now prefer to read Cormac McCarthy and John Updike. If you write it I promise I will read it!

    • I usually categorize the bible as “myth”, myself… probably as sacreligious as your suggestion. I’m certainly not the religious sort, me. It’s a terribly long while since I read that book (it was a long hot summer and my parents didn’t take me to the library often enough. I was ploughing through the New Testament – it was starting to get a bit boring – when a welcome library trip hove into view. I borrowed a volume of Norse Myths. Christianity never seemed the same after that.)

      Thank you for the nice words about the blog.

      I must admit, I *have* been trying to think of a reason for putting a character with PD in a novel. I haven’t come up with one, yet – but what I do know is that they would have to be a ‘strong’ character, not a passive victim who needs looking after.

  4. What we did on our holiday by John Harding. A wonderful novel……..written with great humour and a rare generosity of spirit………….a good page turner.

  5. An interesting blog, I’m glad to have found it, having had PD for 15 years. Two points:
    if you’re really deciding on your own medication, do be aware that taking LDopa is a Faustian Pact. You’ll feel much much better for x years (5 is the average) and then you pay your side of the devilish bargain, in the form of dyskinesia. You must decide if and when it’s a price worth paying.
    re PD in fiction: Jonathon Franzen, The Corrections; Sue Miller, The Distinguished Guest; – and 2 crime fiction series: Jessica Mann, The Voice From The Grave (and others); Michael Robotham, Bleed for Me (and others).

    • Thank you for the compliment, Anonyma.

      Re. L-dopa. I’m kind of aware of that (although I thought the timescales were significantly longer). That is the main reason that I have a Ropinerole/Requip starter pack upstairs; I haven’t started it yet because of the warnings about drowsiness, driving and alcohol – we have family events occurring in the next few weeks that will involve me driving, potential toasts (of the fizzy wine kind) and, um, a tent.

      And many thanks for your fiction suggestions. I do like a bit of crime fiction! Off to check ’em out on the big corporate book Web site…

    • See my review of Robotham’s first novel, “The Suspect”, here.

  6. Hi there, I came across your conversation only now, and therfore hope this is still relevant.
    My dad was diagnozed at 73 years of age with Parkinson in Sept 2009, and although the medication really worked well in the beginning, he now is fastly becoming more fragile and is being more and more depending on help. I therefore moved in with my parents again to assist better. I intensely try understanding him and his increasing needs, and his interactions with mum as his primary caretaker, being torn between a wide scala of emotions on a daily basis, and it’s often really hard. I have done quite a bit of online reading of scientific information but it’s sometimes all a little overwhelming to take it in in non-fiction format. This is where my search for FICTION books about the illness as “an easier tool” to get more familiar with his present world led me to your interesting blog.
    I wrote down the books you recommended and will be checking our library soon, thank you! In the meantime, you may be wanting to know about the following book that left me rather breathless, as it gave me such a push in understanding things better: author: Jojo MOYES; title: Me before you. Penguin books, 2012. It’s NOT about a Parkinson sufferer, but about a quadrupedic guy, and a girl who by mere coincidence becomes his salaried caretaker. He is severely depressed and wants assisted euthanasia after his failed suicide attempt, and she ends up making it her mission to try and have him reverse his decision. The point of interest to my own situation and dad’s is the interactions between both characters, where they stress the importance for abled persons not to try and decide ON BEHALF OF a disabled/ill person, but to respect their wishes. This may sound trivial, but in practice it’s not all that evident. Don’t be taken back by the rather gloomy description I gave earlier, as it’s a lovely light and often funny book, pleasant reading despite the grave topic.

    • Of course it’s still relevant, Ducky. Thank you for your heartfelt recommendation.

      • Thanks for the reply. Maybe we can subsequently start listing interesting moovies that illustrate the same topic, too! (PS: I like your shoe paintings, they look so real I feel like trying them on and trotting off in the most comfortable ones.)

      • Maybe so, Ducky. I should get around to watching Love and Other Drugs and use that to kick off the discussion.

        Glad you like the shoes. Just done another one – for a different charity – but it won’t get posted until tomorrow, now.

      • P.S. The trail boots are the most comfortable.

  7. Thanks for all the useful links. Had a very last minute idea to get a fictional PD related book for my Dad. Franzen and Mistry both in stock in Foyles, so will pop down to see which is the easier read. My Dad who was only diagnosed last year and is 81 is in a fairly speedy decline right now.

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