The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini
But maybe this year, the year she turns forty, things are going to change. If only she can face the truth about her domestic situation. If only she can accept there are people around her who think she deserves more.
Yet it's tough. When her estranged brother re-enters her life he brings memories of her abusive childhood, memories she thought she'd escaped when she left home at seventeen.
Written in Alethea's rhythmic Trinidadian Creole, this is a painful yet optimistic story of a woman brought up in to think herself worthless, who finds the courage to discover her worth.
Everything Calls for Salvation by Daniele Mencarelli translated by Wendy Wheatley
Initially suspicious of the other men in the six-bedded dormitory, Daniele gradually makes friends. The other patients – the three who can communicate, that is – are much wiser, and more sympathetic than the nurses or doctors. When a crisis flares, the patients understand the reasons better than the staff.
I suppose this would be classed as auto fiction, since it’s so closely tied to the author’s personal experience that he gives his main character’s name. Having worked in mental health services, and having recently published novella in which a young woman of a similar age is also hospitalised against her will, I have a particular interest in this theme. That it was set in Italy was an added bonus: when I was involved in the asylum closures of the 1980s and 90s, the Italian system was considered particularly progressive. Daniele’s experience in 1994 suggests that things were not as rosy as the academic papers implied.
Nearly thirty years later, it seems that we still need to be shown that psychiatric patients are people and that medicine doesn’t have all – or even many of – the solutions to emotional distress. Perhaps that partly accounts for why this novel was awarded the 2020 Youth Strega Prize and has been serialised by Netflix.
Thanks to Europa editions for my review copy. Follow the link for more reviews of novels set in psychiatric hospitals.
The first and second chapters of my new novella Stolen Summers, feature a revolving door at the entrance to my fictional asylum. For while, I considered Revolving Doors as a potential title for the book. Of course, it’s been used before, but so has Stolen Summers and I’d argue the concept is a good fit for a book about historical psychiatric treatment, or mistreatment. In the past, we even used the term ‘revolving door patients’ to refer to those who cycled through a dispiriting sequence of discharge and admission because they didn’t get the support they needed outside.
When the vestibule is clear of people, Matty enters the space and nudges the metal bar. The compartment advances, and she with it, the brush-rimmed verticals making a satisfying shush. When open-air supplants curved walls, she stops and stands before the outside world. Five steps would take her to the rose bed but, although her nose would welcome a sniff of perfume, her feet refuse to leave the building unaccompanied. Another day, perhaps. Back through the revolving doors to the foyer. Back to the ward. Back to the empty life of the long-stay patient. Back to what she knows.