May’s Digital Book Group Read: Ill Feelings by Alice Hattrick

The next book which we will be reading in the Digital Book Group is Alice Hattrick’s Ill Feelings, an intrepid, galvanising meditation on illness, disability, feminism, and what it means to be alive. Hattrick blends memoir, medical history, biography, and literature review to uncover untold case histories of medically unexplained and invisible illness, with a focus on ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, alongside other related chronic illnesses.

A photo showing Naomi's hand holding the book 'Ill Feelings' by Alice Hattrick, published by Fitzcarroldo Editions. The book has a white cover with blue text on the front. Naomi is holding the book up in front of an expansive loch under blue skies.


In 1995 Alice’s mother collapsed with pneumonia. She never fully recovered and was eventually diagnosed with ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Then Alice got ill. Their symptoms mirrored their mother’s and appeared to have no physical cause; they received the same diagnosis a few years later. Ill Feelings blends memoir, medical history, biography and literary non-fiction to uncover both of their case histories, and branches out into the records of ill health that women have written about in diaries and letters. Their cast of characters includes Virginia Woolf and Alice James, the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson, John Ruskin’s lost love Rose la Touche, the artist Louise Bourgeois and the nurse Florence Nightingale. Suffused with a generative, transcendent rage, Alice Hattrick’s genre-bending debut is a moving and defiant exploration of life with a medically unexplained illness.

What the critics say:

Ill Feelings is a deeply personal and deeply political reckoning with the nature of illness, inheritance, time, silence, bodies and invisibility. Alice Hattrick offers both a radical redefinition of the dominant narratives surrounding health and pain, and the knowledge we need in order to name, understand and resist them. Hattrick has found a voice and form which open up new and exciting possibilities for writing the self and making sense of the collective past: I read this remarkable book with outrage, fascination and immense admiration.’
— Francesca Wade, author of Square Haunting

‘I love the quality of attentiveness that Alice Hattrick brings to their poised and pointillistic exploration of the mysterious aetiologies and affects of chronic fatigue. They excel in listening out for echoes and whispers, their narrative of illness wriggling into uncomfortable places that medicine dismisses or ignores. Their book makes you pause to think – and rethink – page by page.’
— Marina Benjamin, author of Insomnia

Ill Feelings defies neat conclusions as well as easy categorization of the book itself, so that attempting to describe it here seems like misdiagnosis, and to try and name the paradox at its heart seems like a betrayal of its rewards. But the thrill of Alice Hattrick’s writing stems from its struggle to be free of its constraints, communicating with unspooling fury the mutability of lived experience rather than presuming to define it. In doing so, they remind us that the undefined – our own ill feelings – reveals not weakness so much as our inherent capacity for resistance.’
— Olivia Sudjic, author of Exposure

Ill Feelings is a necessary, urgent book that I feel I have been waiting my whole life to read. A beautiful combination of memoir, reportage and razor-sharp analysis, it made me think very deeply and critically and feel powerfully understood all at once – a testament to what truly accomplished non-fiction writers can achieve. This book makes me excited for the future of literary non-fiction writing and it’s power to change the world and how we see it.’
— Lucia Osborne-Crowley, author of My Body Keeps Your Secret

‘“Poetry is not the same to the ill, the clouds look different, and so too does the rest of nature.” Alice Hattrick brilliantly geographies sick time and ill feelings. They chronicle not just how pain is located in the body but how it stretches outside of itself, across time and generations, through society and literature. The weight or unweight that is given to it; how disabled voices are heard (or not heard); the toxic way society views unrecovery. This book, and others like it, are always needed, but this feels especially needed right now, when 60 per cent of those who have died of Covid-19 in England have been disabled, and online disability hate crime has risen 46 per cent.’
— Jen Campbell, author of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

Ill Feelings offers spellbinding reality unlike anything I have ever read. It conquers the sense of grief that we have to learn to live with; this deep guttural fear in humanity is addressed compassionately.’
— Billie Ingram Sofokleous, Buzz Magazine

‘Alice Hattrick bears fascinating witness to the arduous burden of sickness and chronic infirmity…. a deeply personal, thoroughly researched, philosophical memoir.’
— Kathleen Gerrard, Shelf Awareness

About the author:

Alice Hattrick’s criticism and interviews have appeared in publications such as frieze magazine, ArtReview and The White Review. Alice’s work has most recently been included in Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art: HEALTH (ed. Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, 2020) and Mine Searching Yours (Forma, 2020). They are the co-producer of Access Docs for Artists, a resource for disabled and/or chronically ill artists, curators and writers, made in collaboration with artists Leah Clements and Lizzy Rose. In 2016, they were shortlisted for the Fitzcarraldo Essay Prize. Ill Feelings is their first book.

How to Get Involved

On Twitter, keep an eye on the #GWLBookGroup hashtag for all related tweets and please do share your own thoughts and insights. We’ll be discussing the book throughout the month with prompts to get involved so keep an eye on our account and the hashtag to see what’s being said.

Facebook Group

On Facebook we’ve created a closed group where we can gather all of the content and discussions. To join, simply request to join the group and we’ll approve your request to give you access.

Set The SEEN

We are reading this book to coincide with the first Set The SEEN festival, taking place on the 28th of May at the Queen’s Park Arena, Glasgow. Set The SEEN is a free community festival exploring invisible illnesses. There will be workshops, talks, films and music to help explore mental health and wellbeingwhilst living with an invisible illness. The festival was inspired by Ill Feelings and Alice will be giving a talk via zoom during the festival, full details to follow in due course. Be sure to follow Set The SEEN on Instagram @SetTheSeenQPA and Twitter @SetTheSeenQPA

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