Tell Me The Planets by Ben  Platts-Mills
(Penguin/ Figtree, 2018)

Tell Me The Planets

by Ben Platts-Mills

Tell Me the Planets is a memoir by Ben Platts-Mills, who has spent the last eleven years working with survivors of brain injury at the Headway East centre in Hackney, and with one man – Matthew – in particular.

Matthew overcame a tough childhood in Ghana and a period of homelessness in London and went on to study computer science at UCL. He became a brilliant software engineer at a City start-up, a fanatical cyclist and all-round over-achieving geek. Then in 2005, when he was in his mid-20s, he started suffering from headaches and blurred vision. The cause turned out to be a cyst on the parietal lobe of his brain. During the operation to remove it, he suffered neurophysiological damage. The surgery saved his life, but the surgeon’s intervention also left him with difficulty forming memories and with a tendency to confabulate – to ‘remember’, with absolute clarity, events that have not occurred.

Together, he and Ben set out to understand what has happened to his brain, what his future holds, and how you go about establishing a new life for yourself when the very organ that enables you to cope with change has been damaged. They talk to audiences in London and at festivals as a double-act on the nature of brain injury. They discover they share a deep love of language and logic (and end up arguing, constantly and incredibly entertainingly, about everything from Marxism to wasps). And eventually they learn that the cyst in Matthew’s brain is growing again, leaving him with an impossible decision to make.

Tell Me the Planets is a book about the brain and brain injury, but more than that, it’s a book about the relationship between two very different people. It is the logical sequel to Do No Harm, Complications and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, written not by a surgeon or a doctor, but by the person who has to pick up the pieces. And it’s an unforgettable story about a friendship to place alongside Stuart: A Life Backwards.

Reviews

“How do you tell a story about so much loss, about disability, about catastrophic misfortune … ?” Platts-Mills asks. He tells it wonderfully. ”
- Tim Radford, Nature