Alumnus brings a little ‘humour’ to the novel

It’s not your typical tale of time travel.

Ill Humour, a recent novel by Western alumnus Philip Glennie, PhD’11, has what he calls an “eye-catching premise.” And he’s right.


The novel explores interweaving tales in present-day Toronto, that of Dr. Anna Mercer, a physician struggling to diagnose a teenage patient exhibiting some strange symptoms, and Donald Firkin, an English professor who concludes Anna’s patient suffers from humourism, an antiquated and discredited ailment of imbalanced bodily fluids, first theorized by Hippocrates.

“It almost has a House kind of appeal to it. As time goes on, Anna begins to realize that there’s no possible way what’s happening (to her patient) could make sense. (Donald Firkin) realizes the symptoms the patient is showing go with medieval theories of medicine,” Glennie, who wrote the book as a side project to his English thesis, explained.

“He implicates himself in the situation and convinces Anna that the patient’s organs have regressed through time.”

But it’s not exactly time travel, per se, his novel deals with, he noted.

“I’m interested in the history of medical knowledge and scientific knowledge and it’s a unique spin on time travel. There is a difference between travelling through time and travelling through history. The patient’s organs don’t travel through time; they go through history,” Glennie said, noting the patient cannot travel back in time to something that was never actually real.

“Scientists now know the humours never actually existed. The patient’s organs are connected to past discourse more than past reality. And the English professor knows how to treat him; he knows various ways of counterbalancing too much blood, black bile. He knows the folk remedies and each time the doctor treats him properly, his anatomy regresses even further to an even earlier time.”

Anna’s father, who also has an interesting side plot in the novel, emerges as a cynic, likening all knowledge to religious superstition, and certainty to ultimate fiction.

“While Anna is a believer strongly in the progress of knowledge and in improving human life, he’s definitely a cynic about that type of thing,” Glennie continued, explaining what was once considered a progressive certainty – such as humourism – is easily discredited with new advances and new truths.

“The novel jumps through time and history and between four different characters in different ways,” said Glennie, who categorizes the novel as dark humour and historical mystery.

Ill Humour is Glennie’s fifth book and first published work. He wrote three novels while completing his PhD and is currently working on multimedia, interactive poetry he hopes to showcase at an event in London.

Published by As the Crow Flies Publishing, the book is available in paperback and e-book form online from a variety of retailers, among them Amazon, Barnes and Noble and