Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff is a book about the omnipresent human struggle for answers. It is about a man's journey to the country of doubt where neither spirituality nor science prove to be sufficient enough to define the universal meaning of life.
The narrator, a middle-aged professor of philosophy, is shattered by his mother's mental condition. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer. The family tragedy is worsened by the sudden death of his father. This forces the narrator to reconnect to his brother, a neuroscientist. He needs his knowledge about the workings of the human brain in order to understand his mother's traumatized mentality and tormented fate. Unfortunately, scientific theories turn out to be useless. Having spent his entire life among the shelves in the library, among the existential questions of Aristotle and Plato, the narrator finally realizes that what human race really needs are neither words, nor question marks. It is answers. Not in the form of sentences, of facts, but in the form of serenity.
The narrator makes a living by giving lectures about the meaning of life. Years after years, he had tried to solve the puzzle of existence by turning it into a labyrinth of rhetorical questions and contradictory hypotheses. Only to find out that, sadly, words have their unavoidable limit. As Stephen King once wrote, "The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out." As Michael Ignatieff himself writes in his novel, "We tell stories as if to refuse this truth, as if to say that we make our fate, rather than simply endure it. But in truth we make nothing." Faced with the meaninglessness of his overflowing words, the narrator starts losing his identity, his security - just like his ill mother. In the end, he is on the same stairway as her - the stairway towards extinction. Not because of a mental or physical condition, but due to the very fact that the only thing that ever confirmed his existence was a beautifully arranged bouquet of empty words.
With finesse, Michael Ignatieff succeeds in writing a novel about the meaninglessness of writing novels. About the insignificance of words, of philosophy, of science when faced with life's grotesque frown.