Review: Asylum – Jack Adams

Asylum

Delaney & Murphy #1

Jack Adams

Atlas Productions

ISBN: 9780994182203

 

Description:

Something happened here. Behind these walls, in these rooms, on the grounds, at the river. The inmate sketched it all – fine lines. See there, in the negative space, the truth in the pencil strokes. Then he was gone.

Joe was their friend; the man they spoke to through the wire fence of the Lunatic Asylum, and 10-year-old best friends, Nathan Walker and Adam Murphy, knew he wasn’t insane. Then, one day, Joe was gone. Now hitting their thirties—jobs and divorces in their wake—ex-cop, current P.I. Nate and psychiatrist Adam decide to share office space and a receptionist. That’s when the letter arrives advising them that they have received ‘Expectations’. A quaint, old-fashioned bequest delivered by a solicitor which amounts to an inheritance for two boys – left by Joseph O’Connell, a missing-believed-deceased former patient at the River Park Lunatic Asylum.

 

My View:

This is a fantastic debut by Australian author Jack Adams, characters are well developed and empathetic, issued are presented in shades of grey, the locations are rich in detail and very visual. I particularly like how this narrative gives voice to the experience of the disenfranchised, those with illness/mental illness in the community and highlights the huge impact that non-judgemental friendship can have on an individual.  And then there is the mystery.

 

A mystery recounted by reflections of two time periods, the not so long ago past and the current times, this is an enlightening read.

 

I cannot wait to see what Jack Adams writes next – it’s hard to believe this book is his debut, it is written with such skill.

 

 

Review: Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Matt Haig

Allen & Unwin Australia

Cannongate

ISBN:  SBN13: 9781786892676

RRP $ 27.99

 

Description:

The world is messing with our minds.

 

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.

 

– How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad?

– How do we stay human in a technological world?

– How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious?

 

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

 

Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the 21st century.

 

 

My View:

This is a very raw, honest and insightful book and I commend the writer and the publishers for continuing to print narratives that open up discussions regarding mental health.

 

Haig has successfully distilled the source of a widespread epidemic of stress and nervousness; you may not have thought about it before

(Or maybe you have) how the constant barrage of information and misinformation affects our thinking and increases nervous tension. I will put up my hand and admit that I have been seriously influenced by the information/news of the world that has appeared and made itself so personal in my social media feeds.

 

Perhaps it is timely that I address this review today, September 11, an anniversary that will affect most people on this planet. Perhaps this is the first “major event” that sent waves of nervous energy around the globe? We (Australia) woke to an atrocity that became very personal; live streaming, “on the ground reporting”, fear and anxiety, despair and grief stared us in the eyes and we responded to a tragedy that felt personal to us.  And while we had a right to know about this shocking event, did we need to be so “involved” in someone else’s grief? It is a complex situation but I can’t help but feel, like Matt Haig that we are creating/being exposed to /manipulated into being a very nervous planet; too much information or mis information is almost as bad as too little in these sorts of circumstances.  Empathy is one thing…but we do not need to take on board someone else’s grief, fear, anger. You can listen, understand, sympathise with the problems around you but you do not need to “experience” the negative vibes yourself. A little distance can be good for the collective mental health of the globe.

 

Do as Matt Haig suggests, take a moment, breathe deep, walk in the sun, walk in nature…switch off the phone, the laptop for a while…accept that technology and social media is a part of our life but not the only part. Engage with the real world more often, the benefits will be life changing.

 

 

 

 

Post Script: Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

Today we have guest reviewer Rachel sharing her thoughts on:

our-chemical-hearts

Our Chemical Hearts

Krystal Sutherland

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 9780399546563

 

 

Description:

John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this irresistible story of first love, broken hearts, and the golden seams that put them back together again.

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

 

Rachel’s View:

Our Chemical Hearts is a beautifully written, character-driven YA novel about first love and it’s heartbreaking inevitability.

26-yeard old Australian Krystal Sutherland’s debut is utterly heartbreaking yet at times incredibly uplifting. Filled with humour and pop-culture references, it’s the kind of book you stay up all night to read.

Henry Page – self-aware 17 year old, budding author and film buff, has never been in love. But that all changes when Grace Town walks into his life. But don’t for one minute think this is a story about love at first sight, or even a typical boy-meets-girl story. Grace dresses in oversized men’s clothing, looks vaguely unclean and utterly unhappy, walks with a cane and seems pretty disinterested in life, making her as far from a typical love interest as you can get. But on top of all that she is enigmatic, smart, witty, and her way with words soon has Henry hooked. Sure enough he falls in love, but through the soaring highs and deepest lows, Grace has to ask if he really is in love with her – or just the idea of her.

And this is where things become really real. Because love is complicated, life is not straight-forward, and sometimes as much as we want things to work out, they just don’t. As Henry finds out more about Grace’s past, he becomes more determined to love her, purposely ignoring the warning signs and massive ups-and-downs of the relationship because of the way it has changed his world. It’s no doubt they’re both going to be transformed by this ride and it’s inevitable, far from happily-ever-after ending.

But it’s that moment when Henry finally realises how little he actually knows about Grace – this girl he supposedly loves with every fibre of his being – that there will be many a reader shouting ‘preach’, because damn this book is relatable!

One of the things I loved most about this book were the pop-culture references – while many new authors try to avoid mentioning specific technologies, celebrities or other aspects of today’s digitally-driven world in an attempt to be ‘timeless’,  Krystal Sutherland has cemented this novel firmly in the world of today. The snippets of poetry (“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul”), movie quotes, celebrity name drops and dozens of other offhand pop cultural references pepper this book giving it a relatable, realistic edge that a lot of first novels lack.

My love for this story withstanding, it does struggle in some areas – I hated how Grace was constantly referred to as ‘broken’ because of her mental and physical illnesses and think the book would have gained a lot by sharing some of her perspective so that her history and struggles could have been more than just a plot device.

All in all, Our Chemical Hearts is fast-paced, quick-witted bittersweet story about love, loss, and how these things shape our lives. It is a darkly beautiful, honest love story that you’ll want to come back to again and again.

“Love doesn’t need to last a lifetime for it to be real. You can’t judge the quality of a love by the length of time it lasts. Everything dies, love included. Sometimes it dies with a person, sometimes it dies on its own. The greatest love story ever told doesn’t have to be about two people who spent their whole lives together. It might be about a love that lasted two weeks or two months or two years, but burned brighter and hotter and more brilliantly than any other love before or after. Don’t mourn a failed love; there is no such thing. All love is equal in the brain.”

 

Thanks Rachel

 

Post Scritp: Pretty Baby – Mary Kubica

What a remarkable read! Intense and thought provoking.

Cover Pretty Baby

Pretty Baby

Mary Kubica

Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA

MIRA

ISBN: 9781743690352

 

Description:

Mary Kubica — bestselling author of The Good Girl — delivers a stunning new psychological thriller about a chance encounter that sparks an unrelenting web of lies where a chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies…

 

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a non-profit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi comes home one day with a teenage girl named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Dishevelled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal — or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated?

 

 

My View:

Mary Kubica is an author to include on you must read list. I loved her first novel – The Good Girl, and this new book is as powerful and surprising; a complex yet not complicated narrative, characters that will affect your emotions and prompt you to think about issues that surround us daily, issues perhaps we have been desensitised to. Kubica makes us look with fresh eyes. Mary Kubica has the real talent of being able to wrap up contemporary issues in complex engaging plots whilst insidiously pricking your conscience and holding your emotions to siege. This is an outstanding, absorbing read.

 

For me there were many levels to this narrative – there is the obvious – a story of child abuse, homelessness loosely knotted together with issues surrounding other health and welfare issues yet for me the strongest and most powerful sub story here was one about the defining of female identity with reproduction and family. This narrative is the perfect vehicle to stimulate such a discussion – and Heidi Wood is the perfect character to lead this discussion. A masterfully written!

 

In Conversation With K J Steele: Inspiration For The Bird Box

Recently I read and reviewed K J Steele’s The Bird Box, I was very impressed with this novel that has opened up some frank and useful discussions regarding  abuse, domestic violence, the treatment of the disempowered, mental health and what it means to seek refuge/asylum, to name but a few of the issues raised by this novel.

In this interview K J Steele talks about her inspiration for writing the novel.

PS

K J Steele will begin sharing a series of short posts next week on her Facebook author page. She will be posting (twice a week) the 86 reasons why a person could be committed to an asylum in the late 1880’s; “the various, mundane and novel reasons why you could have found yourself in the asylum along with the characters of ‘The Bird Box’. Think it couldn’t have happened to you? Well . . . let’s just wait and see what reasons for committal are all included on the list! 🙂 ”

 

A big welcome to K J Steele.

 

 

Suitcase Secrets

Finding inspiration for ‘The Bird Box’ in unexpected places.

When a dead man speaks people listen. There is just something compelling about a voice that reaches out to us from beyond the grave. I’m not referring to spooks here, but rather to mankind’s phenomenal ability to impress ourselves onto the fabric of this world even long after the physical self has departed.

Music, literature, art, etc., are some of the common daily communications we have with the dead. The emotive essence lingers on. But for one fragment of society their voices came forward in a much humbler way.

When I set out to write my novel The Bird Box I spent some time on the grounds and in the buildings of a former insane asylum. Although the physical location was beautiful it was best described as a melancholy beauty. The memory of the former patients lingered.

I began to wonder about them. Not as patients but as people. Who were they? Before and during their committal’s? What had their lives been like? Their childhoods? Had they flown kites? Liked kittens? Plums? Had they been bold and adventurous or shy and cautious? What had formed their hopes and dreams and secret fears?

I went to the Mental Health Archives in search of answers. I found none. Researching patient files was often heartbreaking. Not so much by what was written there, but by the lack thereof.

After the initial admittance notes there was very little new information. Staff were busy and it was not uncommon to have whole lives –40–50–60– years condensed down to a few brief notes.

The brevity of it haunted me. Not that I blamed the staff. Their hands were more than full with practical matters. But still, it felt inhumane to me that whole lives had been pared down to a few paltry lines. I wanted to know who these people were. Above and beyond the narrow label of psychiatric patient.

I was soon to find out. Their voices began a torrent of stories into my mind. They demanded a place on my page. They had stories to tell; lives and loves, laughter and tears. They too had experienced great joys and devastating loss. They had suffered deeply as well and yet none of these things fully defined them.

Synchronistically, as I was writing their stories I was sent a link to Jon Crispin’s stunningly evocative photographs of the Willard Asylum Suitcases. Jon’s photographs visually dovetailed so perfectly with my written efforts to portray the person behind the label of psychiatric patient that I knew immediately I had to travel to the exhibit The Changing Face of What is Normal in San Francisco to further explore his work.

What followed was an astounding opportunity to speak with the dead. Or rather – listen. Displayed alongside some of Jon’s photographs were the original suitcases and their contents. Each suitcase, no matter how carefully or haphazardly it had been packed for that initial trip to the asylum, spoke volumes to me. Each one was a virtual time-capsule illuminating the individuality of its owner. Bibles and poetry books, family pictures, lotions, musical instruments, detailed diaries, loving letters. Objects as seemingly disparate from one another as mending kits and (in one case) a small hand-gun. Items that symbolically spoke of the desperate need to either mend or end the suffering.

Few people in our society’s history have been so reviled and disenfranchised as the mentally ill. Our discomfort and fear of those we could not understand or control led to some less than glorious years.

Those committed to the care of an asylum were in some ways excommunicated from the rest of humanity. They were held in institutions where their sense of autonomy was met with resistance. Their personal mail was opened and relieved of any unsettling or dissenting content. Their objections were routinely overruled. Not only did they become powerless they became voiceless as well.

Obviously it was far easier to silence people back then in an age before today’s instant and ubiquitous technology. Problematic dissenters were easier to erase; sometimes permanently.

And sometimes not so permanently as evidenced with the Willard suitcases. The contents of the suitcases serve to form an intimate choir of ghostly voices. They speak of each person’s individuality. Of their uniqueness. Some of them give evidence of seemingly competent minds while others show an obviously distorted grip on reality. Mental illness can be frightening. Perhaps to no one more so than to the person caught within its shifting shadows.

The people who filled the wards of the former insane asylums were as individual as they were unique. To paint them all the same would be but an erroneous reverse stroke of history. The contents of the suitcases they left behind now speak formidably for these long dead patients.

I have listened to their stories and endeavored to capture the echo of their hearts and minds in my novel The Bird Box. These were people who contributed to the diversity of life. And their lives mattered.

 

http://kjsteele.com

 

http://www.willardsuitcases.com

 

 

 

 

Post Script: Alice and the Fly – James Rice

Honest, straightforward, heartbreaking and insightful.

Alice and the Fly

Alice and the Fly

James Rice

Hodder & Stoughton

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9781444799514

 

Description:

A spellbinding debut novel by an exceptional new young British talent.

 

This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It’s about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it’s about love. Finding love – in any of its forms – and nurturing it.

 

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.

 

My View:

What a fantastic debut novel – James Rice has captured the essence of youth, loneliness, love, secrets and mental illness and extracted a tale that is simply told yet powerful in its sparseness. Told mainly through the observations in The Fly’s (Greg’s) diary and the police transcripts of their interviews (no spoilers here) we learn about Greg’s spartan existence, his loneliness. Greg’s acute and brilliant observations of the world he lives in are revealing and confronting; told without melodrama, or malice, reported as is, matter of factually, which somehow makes these observations even more powerful. The missing elements in his life, love and kindness – are conspicuous by their absence.

 

The police interviews very quickly alert you/forecast a dire act has been committed and slowly the author teases out the circumstances of this, one diary entry at a time – you will be spellbound, you will be captivated by the unravelling of this story and will not want to put the book down – I couldn’t stop turning pages until I knew the entire history of Alice and the Fly. Then I felt saddened. What an unnecessary sadness; life could have been so much easier. Life could have been so much more for all those involved, Greg is not the only one isolated in this book.

 

Rice writes an exceptional debut; his narrative is calm and clear and bitter sweet and has an authenticity that is undeniable. Greg’s diary entries ring true and elements resonate within us – who has not been bullied – as an adult or a child? Who has not fit in – be it at school or place of work or even in the home? Who has not felt isolated at some point in their life? Who has not stored secrets in the vault of their own mind? There are elements here we can all relate to, there are opportunities here for change and awareness that should not be ignored. Beautifully written with a natural voice that is intelligent and respectful, a narrative that is distilled with an element of realistic optimism…

Real Life Bird Box Situation

After reading the book  The Bird Box I came across this article that is so relevant. The sort of thing discussed in the book did happen…. http://www.theage.com.au/comment/my-father-beat-my-mother-and-robbed-me-of-my-childhood-20150224-13mzvd.html

Elizabeth Potter

My educated and charming father beat my mother regularly and had her committed her to a mental institution. As a child, I played the role of ‘peacekeeper’ and the memories haunt me still.

My mother was committed to a mental hospital when she tried to escape being beaten by my father. This is not something I spoke to anyone about at the time, or now for that matter. So why didn’t I yell and scream, run out into the street and tell someone. Tell who? This was embarrassing and I was ashamed.

My father was not an alcoholic, a loser or any of the stereotypical terms associated with wife beating. He was a well-educated, charming man.

Levelling a charge of [mental] instability is a way of silencing and controlling women dating back hundreds of years. 

I was one of four children and we were all loved and cared for. We were never beaten, but home was an angry place, always waiting for the explosion between our parents. While the arguments took place in front of us, horrible, angry adult arguments with loud noises, we would huddle in another room covering our ears, silently praying for this to stop.

The real beating was done while we were away – at school. So why didn’t my mother escape, go away, as has been suggested by some commentators. A number of reasons. This was in the late 1950s early 1960s. My mother couldn’t speak English very well, being one of the  refugees who fled a ravaged postwar Europe, and she was socially isolated as we lived in the bush. I am not referring to a regional town, but an area where there were a few farms, a general store, a church – and lots of bush. You could go years without seeing or talking to anyone.

So why did my mother stay? Back then, there were no services that would have supported her, especially with four children, literally no money, and no extended family to go to for help. I don’t think she would have broken her silence in any case, as it would have been too shameful. Admitting to being beaten would have reflected on her dignity. Maybe there was a European cultural aspect to this – all of which conspired to keeping this a secret.

The real story started when she  tried to “escape”. She planned to move into a deserted shack nearby. She started cleaning it up ready to squat in. All she wanted was a quiet spot, a peaceful life free of the violence. She wanted, as she called it, “peace”  or, as Virginia Woolf wrote, a room of her own. It was a desperate and fanciful act, but to her, it seemed feasible.

Of course, my father found out and  refused to allow this, as he would have been shamed. I was too young to recall how he arranged this, but he called a GP who lived in a country town some 20 kilometres away, established that she had had a mental breakdown and had her committed to a mental institution.

She was kept there for many months where, as old family correspondence reveals, she was “treated with a range of drugs as well as “electroconvulsive treatment” (we called it electric shock treatment). When she eventually came home, which needed the consent of my father, she was calm, almost docile, and suffered some memory loss. But for the rest of her life she was unable to trust anyone and lived in fear of being taken away again.

This provided the perfect alibi for my father. On the worst occasion, we children came home from school to find the kitchen in a mess, flour scattered on the table and floor, where my mother had been preparing dinner. She was nowhere to be seen or heard. I looked around and went into the bedroom (not shared with my father) where she was in bed with her head wrapped. She moaned when I came in and I saw that her head was swollen, and her face beaten black and blue. My father said she had fallen down the stairs.

After a few days, the same GP who had signed the papers to commit her to the mental hospital came to the house. I can only speculate that my father was scared that she might die. The GP would have recognised the signs of a beating but accepted the story that she had fallen. Why didn’t he ask questions? Call the police? Talk to the children (the oldest about 14) to find out what was going on? Well, after all, my father now had evidence that she was mentally unstable.

I stayed home from school for some months to look after my mother and younger brother – I was the “peacekeeper”,  chosen for this role. To be honest, I did anything to keep the “peace”, to provide no cause for anger, arguments or violence. When my father did speak to us, he would refer to the fact that she was mentally unstable and needed to be “looked after”, whatever that meant. I was 10 years old. I wanted him to die.

Which brings me to the current debate on family violence, and what appears to be the lack of action by police and the community to act in such situations. It pains me to see that over 50 years, little has changed. There’s a lack of follow-up on intervention violence orders, and a reluctance to interfere with family matters. Sure, in the community generally we have lots of talk, meetings, statistics and, in Victoria, a royal commission. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced he will place domestic violence on top of the COAG agenda, but in the same breath has cut millions from services which help women to leave violent relationships. Go figure.

The language says it all – these are “domestic” matters. The violence is also “domestic”.  All a bit messy, not stuff anyone wants to get involved in. Besides, she probably “asked for it”. To illustrate, in 1993, a judge in the Supreme Court of SA, directed a jury: “There is, of course, nothing wrong with a husband, faced with his wife’s initial refusal to engage in intercourse, in attempting, in an acceptable way, to persuade her to change her mind, and that may involve a measure of rougher than usual handling.” Hideous but I believe he was reflecting a community attitude, buried in a deep dark place we can’t admit to.

Why did my father beat my mother? I wish I could ask him, but he is no longer alive, and nor is she. I want him to know how much of my childhood was taken from me by his violence, forcing me to take part in the cover-up, in my role as the “peacemaker”.

And what of the GP? He could have frightened the hell out of my father, shook his fist, threatened him, instead of closing in under a veil of male complicity. Levelling a charge of instability is a way of silencing and controlling women dating back hundreds of years. But the physical violence is just one aspect of what occurs. There is financial disempowerment, emotional and psychological control.

All my mother wanted for herself and her children was a safe place or, as she put it, peace. For women and their children wanting to get away from violent situations, this should be a basic right.

Elizabeth Potter is a freelance writer.