Saturday, 20 May 2017
Phenomena - The Lost and Forgotten Children by Susan Tarr
It is hard to put into words how much this book affected me. It is a book that transports, educates and makes you think . As I read I found it hard not to be infuriated by the injustices of the treatment of those with mental health conditions and the fear and dread that "difference" seems to instill in the human heart.
At the heart of the Story is Malcolm, a inmate/patient of a New Zealand institution for the mentally ill. Here the vulnerable live together in a strange melting pot of archaic treatments, friendships forged and mysteries unravelled.
Malcolm was incarcerated as a child and a rehabilitation process has succeeded in allowing him to live in a halfway house of sorts, where an awful tragedy sends him reeling back into his own black fog and an untimely return to the only home he truly has ever known.
The truths of his story are gradually revealed as he claws his way through the fog of distorted memory caused by emotional trauma and the use of the ECT treatment that is in it's infancy.
Malcolm's determination to remember and order his thoughts is the thread that binds this story and his inate personal curiosity allows him to be the conduit for the stories of other poor souls who orbit him at the hospital.
Despite the squalor, the brutality and the tragedy of these people being sequestered away,out of sight and out of mind, there is a beautiful dignity to the subjects of these stories, sadness mixes with small mercies and kindnesses and humanity in all it's forms exists within the community of those left to fester behind closed doors.
There is something so sad about reading a book where people suffering easily identifiable mental conditions are treated uniformly as lunatics, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Post Partum Depression, and some physical disability and even to some degree,just simple grief all play a part in the condition of these people who were sent away, to be hidden so as not to distress the "Normal People" outside.
That this story is based on the real life patients of a real institution makes it doubly resonant. It seems historically accurate and is written with an honesty that does not sugar coat, but celebrates the complexity of the human mind, but also the greatness of the human spirit.
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the care of the vulnerable in our society. It is a hopeful book about those who might have been lost to our sight forever had not Ms Tarr excavated their tales into such stark but beautiful relief.
Easy five stars.