Monday 29 December 2014

Book review - Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking

To coincide with the release of the biographical film The Theory of Everything, I've been reading Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything (affiliate link), the memoir written by Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking's first wife, who was married to him for 25 years. The book goes into depth about their lives together as they raised three children and how Jane coped with their young family and a severely disabled husband, amid Stephen's growing fame.

When Jane and Stephen met he had only recently been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, and when they married he was expected to live for just a few more years. Jane writes a very honest account of their marriage and the struggles that they faced as his condition deteriorated.

It's important to realise that it's not a book about Stephen Hawking. It is written from Jane's perspective - her experiences, her feelings, her impressions of other people. Stephen himself is not depicted in a particularly good light. He is portrayed as stubborn, in denial about his health needs, and refusing to accept any kind of external help, despite Jane's struggles, until it became clear that there was no other alternative. 

It's surprising to learn just how little help from the state the family received. Much of Stephen's care and the equipment that made the family's life easier was privately funded. It wasn't until the release of his book, A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, that the family found themselves financially secure. Jane gives plenty of credit to those friends and family members that were there for her in difficult times, freely admitting that she would have been unable to cope without them.

I've not seen the film yet, but from the trailer it seems to be promoted as a love story, which I didn't really pick up from the book, I didn't feel that there was a great deal of detail about the romance between the two. It was clearly a supportive and loving relationship, but Jane did sacrifice a lot so that Stephen could go on to succeed, despite often feeling sidelined by his intellect and fame.

It's a long book, but I found it a pleasure to read with a flowing, honest and conversational tone. 
Although the book ends with the couple's eventual divorce after many years of strain, the book has been updated with several post scripts that bring it right up to date, and reflect the current, happier relationship between Jane, Stephen and their children. 

I received a copy of this book to review.

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