Please Read This Leaflet Carefully is a novel about chronic illness told in reverse, a powerful look at different versions of a self and how illness can be told. Laura has dealt with a catalogue of health issues including severe allergies and was diagnosed with endometriosis in her twenties. The novel opens with her as a young mother in New York City, battling for the energy to keep her life in balance and look after her daughter. The narrative then travels backwards, charting the changes in her health and her life as she grows up and moves abroad, heading towards her growing up in Norway constantly in and out of hospital and doctor’s appointments.
The novel is a moving one, with detailed descriptions of the way pain affects her life when it is happening and also when it isn’t as severe. Laura is plagued by the memories and remembered sensations of her hospital trips and operations throughout her life, and the structure of the novel allows for these hauntings to come before the events themselves. There is a kind of backwards inevitability, knowing that Laura does become someone she might not have thought she ever could but also that she will continue to be ill and continue to face the realities of medical care. Also notable is the way the novel also focuses on other areas of her life—relationships and divorce, sexuality, career and education—but weaves in the ways in which these are all affected and complicated by chronic illness.
Havelin has written a novel with a powerful depiction of chronic illness, using a distinctive structure to tell this story. Memorable and detailed, it will make people regardless of their own medical conditions and history think about their relationship with their body and its limitations.