Disturbing portrayal of a neuroscientist and her subject

The Man Without a Shadow - Joyce Carol Oates

Elihu Hoopes is the man without a shadow. Due to an infection and high fever, he sustained brain damage and has lost the ability to retain memory for longer than 70 seconds.  Even though he doesn’t remember her from one meeting to the next, the neuroscientist Margot who is studying and testing him, starts an illicit love affair with him. 


Ms. Oates is a master at composing complex novels that dig deep into the hearts and minds of its characters. I found this novel to be particularly thought provoking.  This scientist studies Eli for thirty years.  He doesn’t even know why he’s there or what’s being accomplished.  He mistakes her for a doctor though her experiments aren’t meant to cure him but are only to study his brain responses.  She plays tricks on his mind, sometimes telling him things she shouldn’t because she knows he’ll forget she ever told him.  Even she questions what she and her team are doing to Eli and whether they’re showing cruelty to him or whether the benefits of the study are worth the results.  Even while I questioned the Margot’s ethics, my heart broke for these two lonely souls brought together through Eli’s brain damage.


To watch the relationship between Margot and her subject Eli and how it changes over the years is fascinating. There’s a disturbing past memory of Eli’s that haunts these pages, too.  Most of the testing done on Eli is monotonous and repetitive and I think some readers may get tired of reading the same thing over and over.  But I think that was necessary to show just what they were subjecting Eli to.  All in all, I thought it was a very interesting book about the mind and science and I cared very much for both of the main characters.


The book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.