Shouty Doris Interjects during… The Women in the Walls!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

women-in-the-walls

Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?

Shouty Doris interjects

Washing my hair.

For seven months?

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes.

But surely you couldn’t ha —

Shouty Doris interjects

Just get on with it Bruce.

Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris.  Right.  Let’s crack on.  Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.    

I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review.  The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace.  I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish.  But….

Shouty Doris interjects

It wasn’t.

Well, quite.  From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice.  I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character.  But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well, that was a mistake.  

How so?

Shouty Doris interjects

The voice problem never gets any better.  It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere.  Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five.  Spoilt, selfish brats, all.  Even the adults.

You’ve got a point there, Doris.  None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way.  We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them.  Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.

Shouty Doris interjects

Strike two!  The author doesn’t know anything about creepy.  There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up.  I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful.  It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you.  Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)

I’d have to agree, Doris.  I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue.  It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost.  There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.

There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense.  My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.

Shouty Doris interjects

HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too.  No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?

Exactly.  That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.

I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish.  There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story.  Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate.  The parties with the country club were a big culprit here.  I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?

Shouty Doris interjects

I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.

Weeeellll.  I didn’t.  I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen.  It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.

Yeah, yeah.  I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.

Shouty Doris interjects

Let that be a lesson to you, boyo.  Now, I have to go and wash my hair.

But didn’t you just wa —

Shouty Doris interjects

Get on with it.

Right.

In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance.  Have you read The Women in the Walls?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris interjects during….Lily and the Octopus!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris and I are with you today to discuss a new release contemporary novel that features some major elements of magical realism and at least one characterful dog.  As we all know, Shouty Doris is a big mouth  a blabberchops free with her opinions, so I’m warning you now, this review may contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

We received a copy of Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

lily and the octopus

So Lily and the Octopus centres around young man and his relationship with his aging dachshund, Lily.  Things are going mediocre-ly for Ted, when he discovers an … octopus… on Lily’s head.

Shouty Doris interjects

Octopus indeed. He’s not fooling anyone.

Yes, well, I’d have to agree with you there, and I don’t think it’s particularly a spoiler to say that the octopus is not a literal octopus but a figurative one, indicative of the fact that Lily is sick.  Possibly life-threateningly sick, as frequently happens with pets of a certain age.  The point is, Ted refers to this …thing.. as an octopus for almost the whole book and even ends up having conversations with it.  Therein lies the magical realism in the story.

Shouty Doris interjects

Therein lies the lunacy more like.  That Ted needs to get out more.  He’s far too co-dependent on that dog if you ask me.  A grown man, too.  

Ted is indeed very invested in his relationship with his dog.  He is in between romantic relationships and on discovering the cephalopodic threat to Lily, begins to withdraw from his friends even more.  As the book continues, we discover more about the back story as to how Ted came to be Lily’s owner, and a previous life-threatening illness that Lily overcame.  We are even privy to his weekly battles with his therapist, Jenny.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why on earth would you waste money on a therapist for whose opinion you are indifferent?  He has more money than sense, that Ted.    Anyone who spends money on inflatable sharks needs their head examined if you ask me.

You’ve brought up a good point there, Doris –

Shouty Doris interjects

All my points are good points. 

– because up until about two-thirds into the story, the only bizarre thing about the book is Ted’s unwillingness to address Lily’s octopus for what it really is.  Once the book hits the two-thirds mark however, the magical realism is ratcheted up a notch and a number of chapters go full allegorical mode as Ted battles his inner demons on a very strange stage indeed.  I shan’t spoil any of that bit for you –

Shouty Doris interjects

Can I, though?

– no – but I found it to be a bit much for my tastes.  It is certainly the most action-packed part of the book and an important turning point for Ted, but by that stage, I knew what the outcome was likely to be, had accepted it, and was just waiting for Ted to do the same.

Shouty Doris interjects

He was very slow on the uptake, wasn’t he?  Everyone knows that any time a cute, cuddly animal appears in a book or film, it’s one hundred per cent certain that it will end up – 

THANKS DORIS!  I think I hear The Bold and the Beautiful starting! I’ll shut the door so we don’t disturb you!

Shouty Doris interjects

*Shuffle, shuffle, creak*  

Alright, Ridge-y boy, come and tell Doris all about it.

Right, now she’s gone, we don’t have to worry about major spoilers.  Although…I have to say that overall, I didn’t particularly connect with Ted as a character, despite his everyman status, apart from the shared experience of pet ownership and the inevitable existential angst – for ourselves or by proxy – with which many of us grapple.  I did find this to be an interesting, if not riveting, read and enjoyed how the author at least took a risk on the magical realism aspects to explore the more depressing parts of human existence and its inevitable finality.  The ending is hopeful and quite charming really, so if you are a fan of subtly humorous ponderings about the looming demise of each of us as individuals, and you love a cute dog story (for Lily truly is a little cutey, with a distinctive voice) then this would be a great pick.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…Fellside!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –

Shouty Doris interjects

-arguing-

-…yes, whatever…more than any other tome so far this year!  I speak of Fellside by M.R. Carey, a paranormal, magical realist, hard-bitten jaunt inside a women’s prison.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

fellside.jpg

Before we get into it, I should point out that the above blurb gives almost no indication of the depth of story that is explored in this book.  This is one hefty tome, make no mistake, so one shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s all about one young woman and her hopes for redemption.

Shouty Doris interjects

That’s right.  You should go into it thinking it’s about drugs and sex.

Well.  Yes.  There is a considerable amount of drug-smuggling, drug-taking (both in accordance with, and against, medical advice) and general druggery going on within these pages (as indeed one might expect from a book set within a prison), and to a lesser extent, a reasonable amount of sex (extra marital and otherwise).  Also, perhaps, as one might expect from a book set in a prison.

I did not consider this before reading, and therefore I was a little bit shocked by the grittiness of the plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

You old prude.

Indeed!  The main character of the tale is Jess Moulson, a young heroin addict who is convicted of murder after setting a fire that inadvertently caused the death of a ten-year-old boy living in the apartment above her.  The story overall is Jess’s story, as she attempts redemption and tries to remodel herself in the dark, dingy underbelly of the maximum security wing of Fellside.

Apart from Jess’s story, we are also treated to chapters from the point of view of a whole host of other characters – the cowardly, get-along-to-go-along Dr Salazar, the spiteful Nurse Stock, a warder on the up in the drug trade of the prison known as The Devil and a whole host of other inmates, medical staff, lawyers and hangers-on whose stories are interlinked throughout the book.

Shouty Doris interjects

And every one of them a crazed, violent loon!  I needed a picture dictionary to keep up with them all.  Especially the inmates.  One crazy, loud, violent woman became much like another by the end.  

Yes, after a while there were almost too many characters to keep a hold of, but I think Carey did a good job overall of keeping a handle on the multiple threads, and keeping the story from being impossible to follow.

Shouty Doris interjects

You’ve got to be joking! There were more twists than Chubby Checker’s corkscrew!  

Admittedly, by the final few chapters, the twists and unexpected outcomes really had been stretched to their limit.  I couldn’t decide by the end whether I thought the execution was masterful or over the top.

Shouty Doris interjects

Over the top.  By the end, the main character had even changed!  

Mmmm. I stilll think the author managed to err on the side of keeping control of his creation. One thing I can say for certain is that you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy this book.  There is so much storyline to unpack that you could –

Shouty Doris interjects

-club baby seals to death with it.

Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

I though it suited the violent prison atmosphere.  

Speaking of atmosphere, one thing I puzzled over was the fact that this book is set in England, written by an Englishman, yet there was nothing remotely British about the feel of the writing or characters.  In fact, I was certain throughout that this was an American book about American characters.  Certainly this isn’t necessarily something to complain about –

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d like to complain about it.

but I just found it a bit strange and disorienting.  This is probably quite appropriate because I found much of the book quite disorienting.

Shouty Doris interjects

Probably due to all the drug use.

Quiet you.

But definitely absorbing.  This was an absorbing, gripping, unexpected read that I can’t say that I enjoyed, exactly, but certainly felt compelled to finish.  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Carey’s work here and will now have to hunt down The Girl With All The Gifts, which has been on my TBR for ages.

Shouty Doris interjects

Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.

**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**

Shouty Doris interjects

Oooh, this is a good one!

I still can’t decide whether or not to put Fellside up as a Top Book of 2016 pick, simply because, while it was so memorable and different to anything I’ve read so far this year, I didn’t actually enjoy it all that much.  I suspect this one will make its way on to some bestseller lists, so I’m interested to see what others think of it.

If you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of human misery and provide you with plenty of distraction from your humdrum, not-being-in-prison existence, with a bit of a paranormal twist, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at Fellside.

But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Casquette Girls!

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Shouty Doris interjectsShouty Doris and I would like to welcome you to another tag-team review, this time for a three-quarters intriguing, one-quarter dragging new release YA novel.  We received The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s a book that nearly made my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and a cracking tale, but by the end, I opted to leave it off the TB2015 and just recommend it to you as an exciting story with familiar themes but some quite intriguing ways of expressing them.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

casquette girlsI was initially drawn to this title because of its setting in “Post-Storm” New Orleans.  The catastrophic event that was Hurricane Katrina is as mesmerising as it is heartbreaking.  It appears that publishers have decided that the “too-soon” period has passed, as there seem to be a number of YA titles around at the moment that are set in New Orleans in the close aftermath of the hurricane.  The added bonus of a magic curse or family secret alluded to in the blurb just sweetened the deal and for the first few chapters I was riveted by Adele’s cautious return to the remnants of her hometown.

Shouty Doris interjects

Riveted, were you? 

Not at all concerned about this young woman’s safety then!  What kind of person would bring their 16 year old daughter into a lawless, foodless, shelter-less disaster zone,  just because the girl begs to return? Shocking parenting, if you ask me. 

Well, yes, I will admit to a little bit of disbelief at the apparent lunacy of returning to a place with no electricity, scarce food, hardly any security, no school and a primary place of residence that any ordinary person would consider to be structurally unsound.  But I pushed past this minor quibble and got caught up in the weird goings-on that materialise around Adele – there’s a bird attack, a very creepy incident with an old convent…and the fact that corpses keep turning up in non-Storm-related circumstances.  Just as I was getting into the story however, one of my pet peeves turned up: unnecessary romance.Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t mind at all when those handsome young lads turned up.  Lovely European manners, too!

Now come on Doris,  you knew they were going to be trouble as soon as they appeared.

Shouty Doris interjectsWell, boys will be boys now, won’t they?

Well, as it turns out, boys will be…..actually that would be a major spoiler.  Essentially, a number of handsome (of course – why can’t they just be ordinary looking?) young men turn up to vye for Adele’s attention and apart from fulfilling some major plot points, generally end up slowing everything down as we are subjected to your typical swooning girl/smarmy-but-drop-dead-gorgeous-older guy/disgruntled-initial-suitor-who-would-be-a-much-better-fit-for-the-female-protagonist-but-has-temper-issues attraction triangle.  Bummer. 

Just as I thought the magic/paranormal part of the story would start rolling along, we are introduced to the diary of  Adeline Saint-Germaine – a young French girl who has some unspecified connection to Adele and the odd circumstances surrounding her return to New Orleans.  Cue historical fiction interludes!  I quite enjoyed this unexpected jaunt into the strangely similar events of a couple of centuries pre-Adele, but again, after a while I felt that these sections also slowed the pace of the book and made it seem much longer than it needed to be.

Shouty Doris interjectsDon’t forget all the French.  It’s je suis this, and croissant that all the way through.  It’s a wonder I could make out any of the story at all!  Honestly, the book should have come with a cautionary sticker: Only attempt this book if you have studied French at tertiary level.

Hmmm. Yes.  I agree there is quite a bit of French language scattered throughout – appropriately enough, given the story’s setting and the fact that Adeline Saint-Germaine and her cohorts are French – but this may be a bit annoying if you are reading the book in print format.  Luckily, I was reading on the Kindle so the translation function got a good workout.

French aside, by the halfway mark in the book there are a number of parallel storylines playing out with plenty of secrets left to be uncovered.  By this stage I was still certain that this would end up being one of my Top Books of 2015, but by two thirds of the way through, it just…

I just…

Shouty Doris interjectsSpit it out. While we’re young. Or some of us, anyway.

That’s just it!  By two thirds of the way through, I wanted the book to be over.  I was ready for the action-packed climax, wherein all the twisty turns were explained and Adele and her friends set themselves to the task of ridding their fair city of the curse that plagues it.  Instead, I got more drawn-out interludes between Adele and both lots of handsome young men that seemed hardly believable, given the fact that the one she likes most is….dangerous.

Shouty Doris interjectsI agree.  Despite ol’ Mr Handsome-Pants’ suave European romancing, I think young Adele is far too intelligent to fall for his life-threatening charms.  But then again, the authors these days have to put SOMETHING in to keep the young ladies reading books instead of shutting themselves away on the Tweeter all day.  A bit of descriptive courting is sure to draw them in.

*muffled giggling from the younger shelf-denizens*

My dislike of romance (especially gratuitous romance) is well known and the amount of simply unbelievable romance bits in this book really brought my enjoyment level down by the end.  I can’t help but thinking if a lot of these sections were more tightly edited, the pace of the book would have benefitted immensely.

On the whole though, this is a complex tale with action, magic, paranormal elements, historical fiction and some standard contemporary-teen problems, all wrapped up in a highly engaging setting and brought to life with the help of some extremely colourful characters, almost all of whom are not who they appear to be.  Despite my decision to ultimately not add this to my TB2015 list, it’s still a cracking and fascinating read that will keep you hooked – provided you don’t mind a bit of teenaged mooning over handsome Europeans.

Shouty Doris interjects

Don’t forget the doe-eyes.  Or the illegal hooch. 

Which reminds me, it’s time for my afternoon snifter. 

It’s ten in the morning, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjectsIf anyone wants me, I’ll be in the drawing room.

That’s the door to the bathroom, Doris.  Doris?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during….You Look Yummy!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a tag-team review for a stand-out picture book that will have you  tearing up as your little ones beg for a second reading. We received You Look Yummy by Tatsuya Miyanishi from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it on the strength of its inviting cover design.  As always, when Shouty Doris is involved, some mild spoilers may be interjected.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This sweet tale about the love between father and son is the first in a tremendously popular Tyrannosaurus series in 12 titles to date, with combined sales in excess of 3 million copies in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and France.  

A long, long time ago, a baby Ankylosaurus is born on a volcano erupting ground. As the little Ankylosaurus begins wandering around, a big Tyrannosaurus comes along. He is about to pounce when the baby cries out, “Daddy!” and grabs onto his leg. The baby thinks the Tyrannosaurus is his father, so as not to disappoint the little one, he takes on the task of raising a baby Ankylosaur. The two develop ever stronger bonds of love, but soon comes the day when they must part. Highlighting the importance of family, this sweet picture book celebrates the love between father and son.you look yummy

See that cheeky, quirky cover?  See that big, scary, Godzilla-like T-Rex? Now see that teeny little pink spiky blob behind him? That’s the sweet little Ankylosaur and his giant, T-Rex adoptive daddy.  Aren’t they adorable?  I couldn’t go past the utter cuteness of the little Ankylosaur and his hero-worship of his big strong protector, exacerbated by the eyeball-pleasing illustrative style.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t think gargoyles had hormones, but you’ve obviously had some bizarre hormonal spurt because I can’t believe you’re getting all doe-eyed and gushy over a samey-samey, “Are you my mummy?” story that we’ve seen so many times you could write it in your sleep.

Oh Doris! How could you say such a thing? I agree that this is a fairly typical lost child story, but it is undeniably sweet and funny.  The scene of the T-Rex learning to appreciate little red berries as an alternative to meat was heart-warming and reflects every parent’s desire to support their children in their investigative exploits.

Shouty Doris interjects

Ridiculous.  The T-Rex should have eaten the Ankylosaur as soon as look at him.  And what was he thinking, letting the baby go wandering off into the forest? If he’s going to masquerade as the kid’s father, he should at least have made sure the kid didn’t go wandering off into the forest to be eaten by any number of other predators!

Contradicting yourself there, Doris.  There’s more text per page than I would have expected for a book aimed at this age group, but it is perfectly primed for read-aloud and the comic-style illustrations and format are incredibly engaging to look at.  I absolutely melted at the twist at the end of the story, too. It was a fantastic way to finish a funny, memorable book.

Shouty Doris interjects

Twist, schmist! That was always going to happen.  I don’t see how a child-stealing monster returning a baby to its rightful parents is in any way “heartwarming”.  If the book was in any way realistic that T-Rex would have been locked up for kidnap!

I think you’re losing it now Doris.  Perhaps its time for your lie down.

Shouty Doris interjects

Exactly.  Don’t forget to bring me a nice warm Milo in a timely fashion.  By the time you brought it up last time it was tepid and stodgy.

I’ll get right on it.  Really, I can certainly see why these characters have been such a success in other language editions and I will happily seek out the other books in this series if and when they become available.  Do yourself a favour and pick up this adorable and eye-catching little treat – you can say it’s for the mini-fleshlings, but we’ll know the truth between us!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects about…Madness: A Memoir

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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)