Eloise's Reviews > A Mango-Shaped Space

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
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Mar 13, 12

Read in March, 2012

Probably the best fiction I've read so far about synaesthesia (yes, I'm British so I'm going to spell it like that). A well-structured and paced read, with some interesting characters, which comes so so close to getting the synaesthesia right.

That is, it gets it right a lot, but there are a couple of things that made me wince a little. I was annoyed to discover that this book won an award for the artistic portrayal of life with a disability, though I can't really blame the author for that. There may be a few rare subtypes of synaesthesia where living with it actually interferes with the ability to live a normal life - I wouldn't want to have the hearing-taste variety as it would make dinner parties and even just family dinner rather difficult, and in the rare instances that it's bidirectional (ie the sound, or whatever, triggers the colour but also vice versa) it may be overwhelming.

However, protagonist Mia has neither of these types, and once she realises she's not mad and doesn't have a disease, she actually enjoys her colours and doesn't find them disabling. I was a little bit sceptical about the vivid 'presence' of Mia's colours, as though life were like one big Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat. I find this tends to happen a lot when non-synaesthetes imagine synaesthesia, but I've certainly never had a problem with maths or foreign languages because of the colours (Richard Feynman, the physicist, was a synaesthete - he saw equations in colour, amongst other things).

On the other hand, I'm what's considered to be an 'associator' rather than a 'projector' as Mia is - in other words, I don't 'see' my colours out in front of my eyes, I'm just aware that they're there. So maybe it is like that for 'projectors' - I don't know, and the synaesthetic experience is very subjective; I'd love to hear from any 'projectors' who've read this book and hear what they think of the 'bath colours' scene. I'm not going to criticise Wendy Mass too much about this as she did get a lot right - she clearly did her research, talked to some synaesthetes and, importantly, actually listened - I can think of other books where the author's talked about the extensive research they've done and all I can think is that they must have decided to ignore everything they found out.

The only thing I wasn't convinced by was the acupuncture scenes and the crazy colours thing she gets afterwards - however, maybe it does happen to some people and I've just not heard about it. I'm prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt based on the rest, and go and look it up.

In general, I'd happily recommend this to adults and children, including synaesthetes - and I hope it might educate more people about synaesthesia and the fact that most of the time, it's not a disability or a disease, but more of an enhancement.

I'd love to see a novel on this topic written by a synaesthete though.
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