Young teacher John Chisholm is haunted by a past tragedy and, believing his wife no longer loves him, begins to experience a nervous breakdown. He is forcibly removed to Springwell, a harsh mental institution where he endures and witnesses abuse – some of this ‘in the name of treatment’ – and makes new, eccentric friends. He is certified and detained indefinitely. Although suicidal at times, he is determined to survive and escape.
John’s wife Heather Chisholm, who has recently battled post-natal depression, is distraught. Left to care for their baby, she struggles to rally support from friends and family. Encountering John’s hostility on visiting him, and horrified at the conditions in which he is hopelessly trapped, she finds herself vulnerable to Sam Newman, an overworked Mental Health Officer instrumental in John’s detention. But he’s not the only one with his eye on her…
I work as a Social Worker, and have always had an interest in the way that mental health services have changed over time. On my student placement I visited an old ‘institution’ for people with learning disabilities. This book is about that kind of setting, and exploring through the characters the way mental health services were compared to now, and how they started evolving.
I have to be honest though. I didn’t love this book. The writing at times seemed wooden, and I didn’t really relate to any of the characters; Some of the motivations (specifically in the attempts by two separate characters to gain the affection of Heather) came across as false and a bit far fetched.
However, I found the comparison between how Heather was supported through post natal depression and how John’s experience was so completely different interesting; that to me was really quite thought provoking, as even now men cannot easily admit that they are not coping. Men’s emotions still often have to be hidden.
I also liked the descriptions of the escape – I liked that there were positives in the story.
On a personal note, I work quite closely with mental health services for older people, and I do feel that services have come a huge way in a relatively short space of time. There are always improvements that could be made, but overall services now are community based, and crisis teams support people through difficult times at home for as long as possible – in such a short time a huge amount has been achieved.
Overall – I wouldn’t read this book again I don’t think, but I did enjoy that it made me think about a few things – it had some potential but didn’t quite meet my hopes.