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Otilla McGregor needs to sort her life out. She drinks too much, she is in a relationship with her married boss, her sister has severe mental health problems – but she is determined to sort her life out and get herself together.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It’s told from the point of Otilla, and employs a type of ‘scrapbook’ method to tell her story; this encompasses emails, snapchats, text messages, letters to the Little Book of Happy (makes sense when you’re listening/reading!) and conversation transcripts with her therapist.

The narration was excellent – Prendergast really got under the skin of Otilla and helped make her into a believable and likeable character. The story itself was also interesting and I liked the deviation from conventional narration, although I think this may work better as a physical book rather than an audiobook.

I would say however, that this is NOT a book to listen to if you need cheering up! As mentioned above, Otilla drinks way too much, her love life is a mess, she thinks that she may be to blame for her sister’s mental and emotional problems, her father passed away a few years earlier and she misses him terribly, her mother has her own problems….on top of all this, Otilla’s best friend Grace is an enabler who believes the only reason to give up alcohol is so that when you go back to it, you get drunk quicker and for less money. Otilla works in a cancer care hospital, so even several of the lesser characters have serious problems.

For all this, although at times I did wonder how much more misery could be stuffed into one book, the story did hold my attention throughout. I adored her new potential boyfriend, and really rooted for Otilla.

I’ve heard good things about other books by Annaliese Mackintosh and would certainly read/listen to more of her stories.

 

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The Dorothy Fish is a psychiatric hospital in London.  N – the narrator of the book – has been a patient there for 13 years, and like the other patients, her ambition is to never be discharged.  So when a new patient named Poppy Shakespeare arrives, furious at being sent there, claiming that she doesn’t have any psychiatric problems, and determined to get out, N is confused by Poppy’s attitude.  Nevertheless, the two become friends, and N tries to help Poppy prove that she does not belong in the hospital.  But they soon realise that they are up against ludicrous bureacracy and a system that hinders those it is meant to help.

I had high hopes for this book – one of the quotes on the cover describes it as a cross between One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Catch 22 – praise indeed!  Unfortunately, while it definitely has some qualities to recommend it, I found that it fell short of my expectations.

As a narrator, N was unreliable, and I could never be sure whether she was telling things the way they happened, or the way she imagined them.  This was probably part of the point however, and I had absolutely no problem with it.  Certainly some of the things she claimed to witness seemed too ridiculous to actually be real, but despite her self-centredness and her skewed take on events, she was quite an endearing character.  The whole book is told through her eyes, and using her vernacular (“I’m not saying nothing, but you know what I’m saying?!”)  She was also very funny at times (unintentionally on the part of the character, but surely intentionally on the part of the author).

One of the things that became apparent quite early on was how each patient (known as ‘dribblers) had a name that represented a letter of the alphabet – and it seemed only possible for anyone to admitted to the Dorothy Fish when the previous patient with that initial had left (for example, Poppy was admitted to the hospital, after Pollyanna had left).  I assumed that this was the author’s way of making the point that the health services saw them only as statistics rather than as actual people.  And that illustrates part of the problem of the book – it seemed to me that it didn’t know whether it wanted to tell a straight out story, or whether it wanted to be satirical view of the health services.

The ending was also unsatisfactory, at least from my point of view, and never really resolved the questions in my mind – which may have been deliberate, but was certainly irritating.  Certain parts of the plot didn’t make any sense – the process that led to Poppy being sent to the hospital in the first place for instance, but as we only have N’s account of how that happened, it’s impossible to know how much of it was true.

On the plus side, as I have already mentioned, it did have a number of very funny parts, and despite the problems, was very readable.  Other than the narrator herself however, it never seemed that any of the other characters were really studied, and they were mainly portrayed as broad stereotypes – again, possibly as a result of N’s view of them, but either way it didn’t work for me.

Having said all that, I probably would pick up another book by Clare Allan – she has a flair for humour and the writing flowed well.  Overall, it wasn’t a raging disappointment, but it didn’t live up to the rave reviews which I had read.

 

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