Shouty Doris Interjects about…Madness: A Memoir



Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a new feature here at the shelf – Shouty Doris Interjects! Every so often you come across a book that will arouse strong emotions. When this happens, you may find yourself shouting (in your head, mostly), at the book, the author, the characters – whatever it is that has you all het up. Well around the shelf we have someone who takes this interjection to the next level. She is known as Shouty Doris. She is a denizen of the shelf and often takes it upon herself to loudly interject when happening upon certain emotion-provoking reads. And so we have given her a feature. She is a vocal non-fan of modern technology, so I was forced to create an artist’s impression of her countenance for the feature button. It’s quite a good likeness, I think. So enjoy this new feature – I hope Shouty Doris’s shoutiness will give you some sense of the complex issues behind today’s book.image

I’m also popping this one in for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the  comfy armchair.

The book is Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Madness is a real world for the many thousands of people who are right now living within it. It never apologises. Sometimes it is a shadow, ever present, without regard for the sun. Sometimes it is a well of dark water with no bottom, or a levitation device to the stars. Madness, a memoir is an insight into what it’s like to live with psychosis over a period of ten years, in which bouts of acute illness are interspersed with periods of sanity. The world is beautiful and terrifying and sometimes magical. The sanctity of life is at times precious and at times precarious and always fragile. It’s a story of learning to manage illness with courage and creativity, of achieving balance and living well. It is for everyone now living within the world of madness, for everyone touched by this world, and for everyone seeking to further his or her understanding of it, whether you think of madness as a biological illness of the brain or an understandable part of the continuum of the human condition.

madness a memoir

Right from the start, I found this to be a harrowing read. I had just picked it out for a bit of pre-naptime reading and was treated to a very graphic and frankly, stomach-churning description of the author’s attempt to amputate her own arm. While this was definitely not what I was expecting as an opening gambit, it was undoubtedly compelling and I knew that this would be an engaging read.

Shouty Doris interjects

It was bloody disgusting, all that talk about fatty tissue and seeping blood. I nearly had to reach for the sick bag. Honestly, books like this should come with a warning. I had to take one of my tablets to calm down.

This was not the first memoir I’ve read from someone diagnosed with Bipolar, but what set this one apart was the fact that it was written by a trained medical doctor and deeply explored the effects of her psychosis on everyday life. An author’s note at the beginning informs the reader that the book has been put together using the author’s notebooks as a basis for describing the periods during which she was unwell, and I found it interesting that while the descriptions were quite harrowing and shocking, we were also dealing with a narrator who, by her own admission, was unreliable. I questioned, for instance, the fact that none of her colleagues (who were all medical doctors, you will recall) picked up on the obvious signs of her psychosis.

Shouty Doris interjects

What you mean is, it beggars belief that she could turn up to work wearing multiple layers of odd clothing, with seeping wounds from a self-inflicted hydrochloric acid burn, after nights spent awake and imbibing large amounts of alcohol and not one of her learned, medical doctor colleagues noticed anything was amiss. And her being in and out and in and out and in and out of hospital and missing work! Surely her boss would have figured out that something strange was going on!

That aside, the book really raised the complexity of mental illness and the services available to people who suffer from its many variations.

Shouty Doris interjects

How did her workmates not notice the smell? The unkempt hair? I mean, how could you not notice the seeping wounds?!! WHY WOULDN’T ANYONE HELP THIS WOMAN??

The author had quite a negative view of psychiatrists in general as well as the specific psychiatrists of whom she was a patient. This was a recurring theme of Richards’ personal narrative, despite the fact that during much of the book she was too unwell to comply with the psychiatrist’s recommendations.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why did she stop taking her medication? She was doing so well! WHY IS THIS WOMAN NOT CHAPERONED DAY AND NIGHT?! She obviously can’t take care of herself. It was just a revolving door – self-harm episode, hospitalisation, out the door with some medication, and start it all again. For Pete’s sake woman, put away the alcohol! Follow the Doctor’s orders! Wait, now she’s going to New York? And Israel?? On her own? WHOSE STUPID IDEA WAS THAT? THIS IS NOT GOING TO END WELL!

Overall, this book was an in-depth look at one woman’s experience with severe mental illness over a period of years and her journey through the public health system. Reading it has stirred up a lot of questions for me about the glaring gaps in provision of mental health services generally, and especially for those who don’t have the money to afford private health care. In essence, while it was a difficult read in places, Madness is an engaging addition to the literature on mental illness in an Australian context.

I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in individuals’ experiences with mental illness, particularly Bipolar, but if this is your first foray into memoirs about mental illness I’d probably start with something a little less “in your face”, lest you be overwhelmed with the enormity of the subject.

Shouty Doris interjects

Thank goodness it did end well. Or well enough. Although that should have been obvious, seeing as she wrote the book. I need a cup of tea and a good lie down after that debacle. It’s enough to give an old woman heart failure.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Progress: 4/10

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)



The Mirror World of Melody Black: An Adult Fiction, GSQ Review…


imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche again as I deconstruct another book in a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today’s book is the second by Gavin Extence, author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which I reviewed a while back hereThe Mirror World of Melody Black deals with similarly difficult topics as that prior book and engages the same warmth and humour, but in a much-different context.  I (excitedly!) received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley.  Let’s begin.

When Abby crosses the hallway to ask her neighbour for a key ingredient in that night’s dinner, she does not expect to find said neighbour dead in his armchair.  As this unexpected discovery segues into the usual official processes that accompany such a death, Abby is interested to notice that, despite living in close proximity to her neighbour – Simon – his death, and Abby’s role in its discovery, bring up barely any emotional response for her.  From this point, Abby begins to explore, through her freelance journalism, why this might be so.  Is increasing urbanisation to blame for this isolation amidst a crowded city? And what do monkeys have to do with it? As Abby delves into this mildly intriguing  (for her) personal experience, her life begins to spiral out of control – from the heady, euphoric highs of hypomania, to the catatonic lows of depression.  The Mirror World of Melody Black explores what it is to be human – and to be crazy – in the context of modern, urban living.



The Good

Before I even get to the content, I have to note that once again the cover designer for Extence’s work has outdone themselves.  After the beautiful green vista of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, we are now treated to this scintillating blue mosaic.  Gorgeous.  image

I think I can safely declare, after having read both Extence’s offerings, that I am now a confirmed fan of his work.  I really enjoyed the engaging first person viewpoint (Abby’s, unsurprisingly) that drove the story.  From the moment she forces (innocently) her way into her neighbour’s flat, I regarded Abby warmly and despite her incessant smoking (a filthy habit), wanted only the best for her.  As in his last work, Extence has once again managed to include a wide range of interesting characters as the narrative unfolds.  None of these is particularly well-developed, the focus being on Abby herself and her inner journey, but special mention must go to the slightly bemused, but ever-so-sporting Professor Caborn, and the no-holds-barred poet Miranda Frost, whom we should all aspire to emulate. Especially with the living in isolation with a couple of cats thing.

The book was just the right length too, I felt.  There are a number of distinct sections to Abby’s story and while they each change the tone and focus of the novel, Extence has achieved a nice balance with pacing so that the plot isn’t slowed down at any particular point.

The Sadimage

There were only two things on which I could metaphorically mark this book down.  The first is a personal quirk, for which the author can’t really be held responsible, but I will bring it up anyway.  Abby and her sister – grown women, both – refer to their father as Daddy.   There is nothing I find more annoying…well, actually there are plenty of things, but let’s just go with this melodramatic pronouncement for the moment…than grown people referring to their parents in such childish terms.  Particularly as Abby doesn’t dote on  her father, or have any kind of relationship with him really.  It seemed a bit odd to me that someone of Abby’s independent calibre would use such a term of endearment for such a man.  Personal quirk, but there you are.

The other thing about which I was mildly brought down was the fact that there is quite a significant section of the tale during which Abby is confined in a psychiatric ward.  As mental health and illness are one of our major interests around the shelf, we have read an awful lot of works featuring psychiatric wards, both fictional and otherwise, and reading about Abby’s time on the ward felt a bit samey, and did dull my enthusiasm just a tiny bit.  I do acknowledge however, that this is due to the fact that (a) I’ve read a stack of books about psych wards and (b) speaking from personal experience, there isn’t a wild degree of variety in the way that people experience such an institutionalisation.  So really, there was nothing wrong with this section of the book, I just found it a bit tiresome, having had the feeling that I’d seen (and read) it all before.

The Quirky


The most unexpected part of this book for me actually appeared after the story had ended, in an author’s note, in which Extence details his own experiences with hypomania.  As interesting as his bizarre and ambitious ideas were during this period of his life, I was intrigued more by the fact that most of the people around him didn’t notice that his behaviour was indicative of some kind of mental disturbance.  (Although admittedly they could be forgiven for this on the banana point. Bananas are awesome).  I found this remarkably interesting because I have heard tell from professionals in the mental health field that it is not unusual for people to be in manic or even psychotic or delusional states for quite some considerable time before anyone close to them actually twigs to the fact that they are indeed manic, or psychotic, or delusional.  You fleshlings are so endearing when you’re pretending everything is normal when it so clearly isn’t.

The book also features Lindisfarne island, which you can google if it is unfamiliar to you. The island is quirky enough in itself to warrant a mention, but this was also one of the places that Mad Martha wished to go on her tour of the UK, but never quite made it.  To think, she could have been one of those pesky tourists mentioned in the book!

Overall, I’d definitely recommend having a bash at Extence’s new work.  If you have read The Universe Versus Alex Woods, then you’ll enjoy being drawn back into the world of a storyteller who does thought-provoking in an understated, yet impactful (is that a word?) way, with dry one-liners to boot.  If you haven’t read Extence’s first work, then let this be your introduction to an author that is now firmly ensconced on my auto-covet list.  I’d say auto-buy, but money is tight around the shelf since the fleshlings bought a mortgage, so I am now doing more coveting than actual buying.

Until next time,






Adult Fiction Haiku Review: When Mystical Creatures Attack!


imageWelcome my dears, to another haiku review with me, Mad Martha.  Today I have a book for you that is bizarre, hilarious, tragic, poignant, silly and moving all at once.  Well, I suppose not all at once. In turns, perhaps.  Suffice to say that Bruce and I agreed it has been the strangest and most rewarding reading experience of the year for us.  Let’s take a stroll into this unusual story, shall we?

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds follows, in spectacularly disjointed fashion, the fortunes of (ex) high school English teacher Laura Freedman, and two of her (ex) students, Janice Gibbs and Cody Splunk.  Told through (amongst other things)emails, letters, school assignments, diary entries and psychiatric hospital workbook exercises, the reader is taken on a journey with Laura, Janice and Cody as their lives ebb and flow through lunacy, partial success and embarrassing failure.  Within these pages is a micro-level social history, depicting three individuals trying to eke out a satisfying existence in an uncaring universe…as well as a treatise on how mystical creatures could be harnessed to solve the problems of our time.


when mystical creatures attack

When life gives lemons

throw all but one at haters

then make lemonade

I know I’ve just said it, but this book really warrants saying it twice – this was both an utterly discomfiting and unutterably satisfying reading experience.  I have never seen a narrative format quite like this one. The style and the format will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are looking for a read that is out of the ordinary and as deeply thought-provoking as it is silly, then I thoroughly recommend giving this one a try.

The book opens with a selection of essays from Laura Freedman’s English class, in which she asked them to write a story in which their favourite mystical creature solves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time.  While reading essays titled, “How the Giant Squid Made Me Stop Being Pregnant” and “How the Cephalopod Balanced the National Budget”, I kind of got the feeling that this was going to be a funny book.  As the second chapter segues into sections of the welcome manual for the Bridges Psychiatric Wellness Solutions residential facility, and the third leads on to email correspondence between Janice and Laura, with Janice trying to find out why her teacher suddenly left school, it becomes apparent that this story is not all it appears on the surface.

I don’t want to spoil the story too much for you, so I’m not going to give you much more detail as to the content of the book.  I went into it fairly blind, requesting it for review mostly because of the title and the tantalisingly short blurb and I think that lack of knowledge really enhanced my reading experience because I got to discover the characters’ back stories without any prior knowledge.  Initially it was tricky to sort out what exactly was going on, as no two chapters follow the same format and the story jumps around in both time, place and point of view, but after a while it became easier to untangle who was who and what was what.  There was even a chapter written in the second-person perspective which was disorienting, but ultimately, all these twists and oddities suit the story and deeply complement the struggles of the main characters.

As a fan of books featuring themes about mental health and illness, I have to say that this was authentic in its portrayal of the far-reaching effects of mental illness and also beautifully captured the twinned senses of hope and despair that so often accompany those suffering from mental illness in various forms.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a beautiful piece of work that is daring in its stylistic audacity and ultimately both poignant and rewarding.  Give it a go if you’re an open-minded reader who doesn’t mind leaping into the literary as-yet unencountered.

Yours in exciting new narrative,

Mad Martha

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*


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