But to reduce this novel to a philosophical allegory would do a disservice to its emotional depth. It is as much a story about the innate human need for friendship: the intensity of Elliott’s yearning to connect, and his unbridled happiness upon doing so, speak to something universal. Now that he has secured an ally in the world, life takes on a new and overwhelming vividness: “there was always more gorgeous detail than I had time or senses for and every caterpillar-of-a-When immediately became a butterfly-of-a-What and flew off into the flock of a thousand interplexing Whats whose air-dance of now being like this and now being like that was too delicate for anybody to remember but a god.” The vibrancy of Litt’s narrative voice – at times heartbreakingly plaintive, but also clever, funny and suffused with tenderness – carries the persistence of hope in circumstances of deep despair. This is a very beautiful book, and deserves to be widely read.
It is the compassion Litt shows for his hero, rather than thematic conjecture, that makes Patience so compelling and authentic. Litt places the reader inside a mind teeming with unique human qualities yet manacled by its body’s limitations: “I could not have explained the agony for a soul of never being able to speak even though you know many of the words”. At one point, Elliott comments on the “Orphans [sic] newly-made cry” that is “quite quite different to the other children … a total need of motherly fatherly comfort that is not coming never coming”. It’s one of the book’s many piercing moments.