Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Unnamed

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The Unnamed

A Novel

by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris X
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder
Although Tim Farnsworth's condition never receives an official diagnosis in The Unnamed, his relentless walking might seem to belong to the category of obsessive/compulsive disorders.

Obsessions are defined as recurrent, unavoidable thoughts, and compulsions are categorized as repetitive behaviors. Obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder, since not performing the compulsive behavior can result in increasing anxieties, and often patients perform the compulsive behavior specifically to try - successfully or not - to ward off anxiety.

For many people suffering from compulsive behaviors, the disorder takes the form of one or more "rituals" or routines that must be performed in the exact same way each time. Common examples include repeated hand washing, repeatedly locking doors before going to bed, or returning to the house multiple times to ensure lights or burners have been turned off. These kinds of behaviors can be seen in the healthy population as well, but in people with OCD, the difference is that these rituals begin to interfere with normal enjoyment of life.

In The Unnamed, Tim's doctors also raise the possibility that his walking might have a physical, rather than a mental, explanation. As Jane and Becka discover, this compulsive walking caused by liver or brain malfunction is more commonly witnessed in animals, which may wander aimlessly to the point of causing themselves physical harm or even death. Ferris's novel never gives readers a straight answer about what causes Tim's walking. Readers can consider and debate whether the ailment is physical or mental, or whether Tim's condition is a metaphor rather than a "real" ailment at all.

Article by Norah Piehl

This article was originally published in February 2010, and has been updated for the September 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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