I’m really enjoying reading this at the moment. In fact I’m enjoying it so much that I want to string it out for as long as possible so that I don’t finish it. I love the idea of authors writing about people who have ended up in psychiatric hospitals in a way that restores their humanity.
Part of my psychological journey has been a critical look at the way that psychology and psychiatry blame the individual for having a “mental illness”. In fact there are a whole lot of factors at work in being ‘crazy’, from the intra-psychic to the inter-personal and the social. This is not to romanticise mental illness and say that psychiatric hospitals are evil places. It’s just an awareness of how psychology and psychiatry are caught up in the operations of power and powerlessness that often manifest in people’s lives spinning out of control.
One of my interests, which fits in with both literature and psychology, is that of the construction of subjectivity. When people have nervous breakdowns their subjectivity basically falls apart, and the process of recovery involves regaining a sense of agency or control over what has become uncontrollable. Currie talks about the process of “undoing the subject” as occurring in moments of self-doubt and anxiety.
Which brings us in a roundabout way to Esme Lennox, the spirited, unconventional and troubled young woman who is locked up in a mental asylum as a young girl and only released 60 years later.
I enjoyed this review.
And I really love O’ Farrell’s writing. She writes so simply but the effect is powerful, as in this short extract:
’I already told you,’ she said, holding his gaze. ‘Never’.
She felt him catch her wrist and she was surprised by the insistence, the power of his grip. ‘Let go,’ she said, stepping away from him. But he held on, fast. She struggled. ‘Let go!’ she said. ‘Do you want me to hit you again?’
He released her. ‘Wouldn’t mind,’ he drawled. As she walked away, she heard him call after her: ‘I’m going to invite you to tea.’
‘I won’t come,’ she threw back over her shoulder.
‘You damn well will. I’m going to get my mother to invite your mother. Then you’ll have to come.’
‘We’ve got a piano you could play …’
Taking the idea of stories from mental hospitals a bit further, I started looking around on the internet for some more. One site I found was called the ”experience project” and has some limited (but interesting) accounts about what it’s like to be on the inside. I think one of the fascinations about a book like Esme Lennox is that most of us are intrigued to know what it would be like to go a bit ‘crazy’ and land up in a mental hospital.
They tried to stick me in a room with a lil old lady who was wailing super loud, but I started bawling too, so they put me in with a goth girl instead. It just was a bad experience. Not a good enviroment. ….My mom found out i was in there and called me, but I told her I was fine, cuz I did not feel like talking to her, cuz she can’t understand. … The cops stuck me in the mental ward for hurting myself, cuz i cut my arms up.
Definitely a topic to come back to in a later blog.