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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Sectioned: A Life Interrupted
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on 12 July 2017
Very readable and ultimately redemptive account of being in and out of mental hospitals and on and off the streets during the 1980s. Less depressing and more funny than you might imagine.
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on 22 February 2009
A clear and compelling insight into one of life's everlasting taboos. The author writes with openness and honesty about his early descent into mental institutions and his personal struggle to break free. Fearsome and yet funny, the slippery ascent takes him through squats, prison and even the Hare Krishnas, forever stalked by his alter ego and holding on to his love of poetry. Set against the hard backdrop of eighties London, this is an unsentimental poetic account of being completely set adrift at a young age and navigating your way to a future.
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on 24 February 2010
Almost 3/4's of the way through so no conclusion to how good it is overall.
Not an easy read to start with as it jumps about somewhat but goes on to be a good read. As I'm of a similar age to the writer it's interesting to read about era as well as the subject matter. I'd forgotton just how 1980's New Cross was and the drugs available at the time.
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on 18 February 2009
The book is neither miserable nor self-centred. It is really accessible and often funny. Each chapter provides an insight not just into the places the author found himself but a few signs of the times as well. Though he was sectioned from 'normal' society by circumstances, he wasn't completely isolated from the outside world and what was going on. Far from it. The events all unfurl in the present tense, which worked really well - I felt like I was there. There is no overblown affectation or melodrama here. The events speak for themselves. It IS his story, but his role is as an observer and not, I'm glad to say, as a victim. He's remained intact, if a little scarred, perhaps? And he's a fine storyteller also.
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on 10 August 2012
Sectioned - A Life Interrupted is John O'Donoghue's first-person account of a decade spent in and out of psychiatric hospitals and, in between, a series of shared flats, hostels for the homeless, a brief stretch in prison, therapeutic communities and housing projects. It's a vivid evocation of how the benefits and good intentions of these places combine with their inability, ultimately, to 'help' and at times, the positive damage they do.
We see time and time again how someone can fall through the cracks - the first interruption is the heart-breaking death of John's father - the cosy, loving, low-key family is suddenly rudderless - his mother begins wandering the streets and John is taken into care - he experiences this as having betrayed and abandoned his mother and this perception is reawakened when he isn't able to get to Ireland for her death or funeral. The most effective time for the 'authorities' to have intervened would have been when the father died - instead, there follows a tragic cycle of depression and near-misses (we read of others who end up at Broadmoor, or as 'long stays' or dead) - thank goodness John doesn't have a taste for heroin - the cost of which - for the individuals concerned, society and the state - are huge - emotionally and financially. He almost becomes a Hare Krishna devotee but manages to escape again.
A question that comes up for me over and over, is who cares and how do they care? John is regularly asked questions by 'professionals' but doesn't really answer them and they don't seem to probe further. The motives of those in the caring professions are suspect - the therapeutic commmunity gave me the heebee geebees and there are funny insights throughout the book.
That John isn't one of those who've just disappeared is testimony to some inner strength - his love of poetry helps,intelligence, instincts for who to avoid and when to get out, his family back in Ireland are loving and kind but the turning point comes when a man called Martin helps him get to university.
The book is also a vivid portrait of London during the Thatcher years - aspects of which are back - and should be a wake-up call for everyone - if not to love their neighbour but to look out for them.
Much more to say about this rich and provocative read - but better just to recommend it.
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on 22 January 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.
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on 29 September 2016
This is what you might call a classic survival memoir. It is about how easily individuals can fall through the gaps and lose themselves, but most of all it is about how people survive against the odds – in this instance, with the sustaining power of poetry and perhaps ultimately, love. ‘Sectioned’ is an understated memoir leavened with wry humour. It documents a lost world of 1980’s squats, homelessness, hostels, half way houses, prison - interrupted by four stints in the type of vast old asylums that no longer exist. For me, it recalled Samuel Beckett’s novel ‘Murphy’, a story of life adrift in the 1950’s. Three decades later, life on the margins is a similarly desultory trawl.

This is what happens to the rootless, to those without a wider support structure. This is also a story about immigration. John’s parents were Irish. When John’s father dies, the family falls apart. The wider supports structures have already been ruptured by immigration. Identity is fragile. It is no accident that there are higher incidences of mental illness among minority communities. Who are we? What shall we be? In John’s case, the death of his father comes at that most fragile of times, adolescence. It is not really a surprise that the centre cannot hold.

It is also a London-Irish story, with a fondness for the city and intimate knowledge of its hidden, intimate places - shot through with trips to Ireland, to a life that could never be. ‘Sectioned’ is a story about rupture and healing, most of all it is about the triumph of the human spirit. It would be easy to see a young man like John on the street and dismiss him as a loser, a hopeless case, yet he is now a university lecturer. He has validation now yet he was always a poet.

People break down when their sense of identity isn’t sustainable. Given the circumstances, the story makes perfect sense. How easily we allow people to fall by the wayside, to disappear. The endless trawl becomes a search for a way of being. This is a story about holding on and letting go, of finding a way to make sense of the past, of the transforming power of creativity.
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on 11 February 2009
I loved it. I'm normally nervous of reading anything too emotional or tragic but this book wasn't like that. Yes, the story is harrowing, heart-breaking in parts but it is written without self-pity. There is an honesty and humour which pervades and compels. I couldn't put it down. Whether you have an understanding of mental illness or not you must read it. Fantastic.
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on 4 February 2015
The book arrived promptly and once I had it, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in two days and was sad when it had to end. The author's honest and down to earth account of some of the most intimate details of his life has moved me greatly. There is something very familiar and homely about the way that he writes. His thoughts and descriptions of madness are quite haunting but also comforting because I can see something of my own experiences with depression in them. I think that not only is the book a well written and compelling autobiography but that it also has great potential to serve as a beacon of hope for those who experience similar things and who might be isolated by those experiences. I loved his sense of humor throughout the book and the deep respect that he has for his roots. I'd recommend this book to anyone.
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on 18 February 2009
I found this book difficult to put down. The title of the book seemed to be reflected in the way the book was sectioned up into the various institutions etc. John related his story skilfully across all its time zones without losing me once assisted by his chapter headings.

It was based mostly during the Thatcher years when social unrest and the feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness, which had probably always been there, became more obvious.

Without self pity John leads you though this story honestly and with humour. It gives an insight into the tradegy of mental illness to those who have not experienced it and hope to those who have.

John is a great story teller and I would recommend this book.
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