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23Feb

The Man Who Tasted Words by Guy Leschziner review – making sense

What flavour is Tottenham Court Road? A riveting study of sensory function and malfunction

Imagine tasting a full English breakfast whenever you heard the words “Tottenham Court Road”. Or the flavour of pineapple chunks at the tinkling of a piano. For James, who is a synaesthete and one of the extraordinary people described in Guy Leschziner’s new book, words, music and life itself are saturated with striking taste sensations. Leschziner, a professor of neurology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, has brought together a collection of exceptionally unusual and interesting stories in his second book, dedicated to the wonder of our senses.

Among his astonishing tales of what happens when the processing of sensory inputs goes wrong, Leschziner includes crystal-clear explanations of something no less amazing – how our senses operate normally. We meet a cast of people whose lives changed when the senses they took for granted suddenly shifted: Valeria the sommelier who lost her sense of taste; Oliver the film-maker who only discovered in his mid-20s that he was missing a chunk of his visual field; and Mark, a man who can hear his own eyeballs “moving and squelching”. Bill Oddie makes a charming if unexpected appearance at one point, discussing his hearing loss-related auditory hallucinations, which sound like a brass band playing nearby.

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