8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Wry, reflective, harrowing, 22 Jan. 2011
Really impressed by this book. It opens with a powerful and disturbing scene of religious mania and abuse, charts - often with great humour - the heart-breaking dissolution of a young man's family and goes on to recount his descent into decade-long struggle with mental illness and social alienation. O'D doesn't really do self-pity but he is an acute and sensitive observer of others - his wry, reflective story reveals a shrewd understanding of the power relations that govern the world of mental health treatment and is full of tender, touching and acute pen portraits of the various characters he met along the way (many victims of Thatcher's brutal cutbacks. This is among other things a subtle indictment of the ugly 80s and should be read a reminder of what the Tories did last time in power and look like doing again).
There's real literary ability too in his powerful evocation of what it feels like to go mad - some people here have noted that it jumps around but I think that's deliberate: the fragmented narrative structure (which is actually only fragmented in those scenes where he's cracking up) captures the disorder of a mind unhinging. It's also a terrific account of mental hospital life ... anyone who's been there will recognise the world he depicts: the chemical cosh, the medieval administration of shock therapy - complete with praying priest, as if the patient was a man in need of exorcism - the dreary day rooms, the self-regarding professional interventions.
O'D goes from hospitals to halfway houses, from time on the street to a brief spell in the nick, and often sinks into desperation and despair. Writing, specifically poetry, keeps him going, and there's one poem here about his father, whose untimely heart attack begins the whole downward cycle, that's very affecting. The account of his mother`s dissolution and death, suffused with feelings of guilt and grief, is one of the strongest things in the book - unbearably sad and, in the end, at the heart of it all.
This, it should be added, is as much a story about emigration (O'Ds parents were both Irish) as it is about mental illness. Split (sectioned) between identification with the country he's been raised in and a poignant hankering after the religious and communal certainties of a lost Irish homeland, O'D's story is an acutely personal account of 2nd generation alienation. "When I first came to London, I was only 19" runs a line from the Pogues' Ould Main Drag ... O'D was born in England, but this book in its own way charts a similar London-Irish experience of psychic, social and cultural homelessness....
Ultimately, he manages to rise above it all and find some peace of mind, but only just: don't look for glib Hollywood resolutions here, but do expect to be touched by his final discovery of a way to break free from it all and find a voice.