CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6
You are going to read four reviews of a book about memory called Pieces of Light. For questions 37-40, choose from the reviews A-D. The reviews may be chosen more than once.
Reviews of Pieces of Light
Four reviewers give their opinions on a book about memory by Charles Fernyhough
In my view, the most important message of Pieces of Light is that the ‘reconstructive nature of memory can make it unreliable’. It is wrong to see memories as fixed biochemical or electrical traces in the brain, like books in a giant library that you could access if only you knew how. People are becoming increasingly aware that memory is, in fact, unstable. The stories in Pieces of Light may persuade a few more – and anyone who reads them will enjoy Fernyhough’s effortless prose. He returns repeatedly to his central message using a sophisticated and engaging blend of findings from science, ideas from literature and examples from personal narratives. Yet in disabusing us of our misconceptions, and despite this being the stated aim of the book, Fernyhough leaves us with little sense of a scientific explanation to put in their place.
‘Remembering is a serious business,’ Charles Fernyhough warns. It is this respect for his subject that makes Pieces of Light such an immense pleasure, as Fernyhough sees the emerging science of memory through the lens of his own recollections. In the hands of a lesser writer, such reliance on personal experience could rapidly descend into self-indulgence and cliché, but Fernyhough – a psychologist and published novelist – remains restrained and lyrical throughout. As Fernyhough examines the way the brain continually rewrites our past, it is almost impossible not to question the accuracy of our recollections. Even the events that we recall with the most vivid sensory detail are not to be trusted, he maintains. Although I remain to be persuaded, Fernyhough does serve up the latest findings in neuroscience and quotes academic studies without ever baffling the reader along the way.
Fernyhough, who is a popular science writer as well as an academic psychologist, wrote this book because he is worried that too many people still think of memory in terms of a vast personal DVD library. He sets out to show the reader how he believes it to actually operate, and I for one was convinced. The author plays a key role in his own book, returning to places that were very familiar to him in childhood to see how much he can remember. However, he gets hopelessly lost. Though Fernyhough is a gifted writer who can turn any experience into lively prose, these autobiographical passages are the least successful of Pieces of Light because they are too disconnected from any scientific insights about memory. There are also frequent references to literature. Yet whereas others might find these a distraction from the main narrative, I personally found the balance between science and literature refreshing and well judged.
A major theme of Charles Fernyhough’s book is that remembering is less a matter of encoding, storing and retrieving an accurate record of events, and more a matter of adjusting memories to current circumstances, which may then alter them for future recollection. He mixes the latest findings in neuroscience with in-depth case histories. Nor is Fernyhough uncomfortable using personal testimony to put warm flesh on hard science: sizeable sections of the book are taken up with him exploring his own past. These do not add greatly to the book, and it is hard for the reader not to wonder whether it is really worth the effort of ploughing on with him. This weariness is reflected in his writing style. Surprisingly, however, Fernyhough is a lucid, concise and knowledgeable guide to all the data that generally stay buried deep in specialist journals, and that is where the book really springs to life.
Which reviewer …
37 expresses a similar opinion to B on how clearly the science is presented?
38 has a different opinion to all the others on the quality of the writing?
39 shares C’s view of how well the writer brings together diverse academic disciplines?
40 has a similar view to D on the effectiveness of the writer’s emphasis on his personal memories?