The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days

Shortly before Christmas, 79-year-old Alfred Warner arrives at Berlin's busy central train station, to meet his granddaughter Brynja for the first time. Alfred has six days to live – he knows this, because the voices he has been listening to for his entire life have told him. When he makes the shocking discovery that Brynja is not only a voice-hearer herself, but that her voices have left her barely alive, he understands that he must tell her his story to save her life. But his time is running out…

The author writes:

Voice-hearing, or auditory hallucination, is an ancient phenomenon that has been reported and described in almost all known cultures. Famous voice-hearers include Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, Joan of Arc and Hildegard of Bingen. It is a universal phenomenon, by any standards. But with the emergence of modern psychiatry in the late 19th century, voice-hearing became a mental illness, something “wrong” inside the brain, a symptom of insanity. Before that, and in other cultures across the world, the phenomenon is and has been constructed in entirely different ways: saints have been canonised because they heard (divine) voices; in Africa and India, many voice-hearers associate positive experiences with their voices, as guides or like elders advising the young. Socrates relied on an inner voice that warned him when he was about to make a mistake. Many artists have stated that their voices are an integral part of the creative process.

Tragically, some instances of voice-hearing (especially threatening and abusive voices) can be the result of traumatic experience, such as sexualised violence in childhood, and may well require clinical and/or pharmaceutical therapy. Certainly, modern psychiatry can help to save lives. But not all voice-hearers can be lumped into this category. In recent years, voice-hearers in Western cultures have begun to challenge the assumption of psychiatric illness. The Hearing Voices Movement, for example, attempts to raise awareness of the diversity of experience among voice-hearers, putting forward the notion that voice-hearing is a multifaceted, meaningful experience to be explored beyond pathology.

For anyone who has concerns or questions, there are many resources available for more information, including online resources from the Hearing Voices Movement, such as hearing-voices.org and intervoiceonline.org.