Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

The book (apparently semi-autobiographical) tells the story of Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous couple, who seem to have it all – wealth, beauty and the admiration of all who know them.  The first part of the book is set near to Marseilles, when a young, emerging film star named Rosemary Hoyt, meets the Divers and falls under their influence, quickly convincing herself that she is in love with Dick.  At the end of the first section of the book, a specific incident occurs, which has a huge impact on Nicole.  The second  section of the book then goes back to when Dick and Nicole first met, and the reader learns that all is not as it initially seemed; the circumstances of their falling in love  throw an entirely different light on their relationship.  The third section of the book deals with the disintegration of their marriage, and the how each of them deal with it.

I was really looking forward to reading this book, because I loved The Great Gatsby, and thoroughly enjoyed Flappers and Philosophers (a collection of Fitzgerald’s short stories).  However, I struggled somewhat with Tender is the Night, and at times it felt like a chore that I had to get to the end of.  I think this is partly because none of the characters are very sympathetic, or even particularly likeable.  It’s difficult not to compare Dick Diver with Jay Gatsby, but whereas with Gatsby, as we learned more about his past, it made me warm to him, with Dick, as the layers were peeled away and we learned more about the man underneath, it made me despise him.  His behaviour in the second section of the book – the ‘flashback’ section – made him appear sleazy and willing to compromise his morals.

That said, I still find Fitzgerald’s use of language to be beautiful and emotive; at times it is pure poetry, and this is what really kept me reading.  The use of the flashback worked for me, although it temporarily put the brakes on the narrative.  There is another version of the book where Fitzgerald swapped the first and second sections around, so that the story was told in chronological order.  This version was apparently not well received, and I think I can see why.  The way the book is written, we see Nicole and Dick as a couple to admire and perhaps envy, then the rug is pulled out from under us as we learn more about the origins of their relationship.  This effect would be lost if the reader knew the truth from the beginning.

My favourite part of the story was the third part of the book, where the balance of power in their marriage shifts, and only one of them benefits.  I’m glad I read the book for this final section, and because some of Fitzgerald’s descriptions of moments and feelings are so wonderfully written, but the characters did not move me at all, and my main feeling once I reached the end of it was one of relief.

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This book has two timelines, the first of which is in 1972, when two seconds were added to time.  Those two seconds proved disastrous for Byron Hemmings when he believes that they are the reason an accident which caused his mother to have a breakdown.  Byron and his friend James start a campaign called Operation Perfect, to rescue Byron’s mother from her downward spiral.

The second timeline is set in the present day, and concentrates on Jim, a man in his 50s, who suffers with chronic OCD, and is haunted by the events of his past.

I enjoyed the book for the most part – the writing was lovely and the story flowed well.  The characters were believable, and Byron’s helplessness as he watches his mother sink into depression, which is not helped by the manipulative character of her new friend Beverly.  This storyline was probably the more interesting of the two, as there was more happening.  However, the character of Jim in the present day storyline, was well drawn – his crippling and debilitating OCD was wonderfully described, and it was impossible not to feel sorry for him, and to hope that things would get better for him.

However, I did find the ending, where the connection between the two story lines – hinted at many times earlier in the story, but not fully explained – was a slight disappointment, and the slight twist was not really necessary.

So overall, I would say that Perfect is not perfect, but it’s an enjoyable and absorbing read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Towner Whitney moved away from Salem, Massachusetts, years ago, after her twin sister Lyndley died.  Now Towner’s great-aunt Eva has gone missing, and Towner goes back to the place where she said she would never return.  The town is shaken by her arrival, and as Towner investigates both the disappearance of her great-aunt, and a young girl who her great-aunt was helping, the secrets of Towner’s own past start to unravel…

I enjoyed this book – on the whole.  I did like the character of Towner, and although I thought I had worked the ending out, as it transpired, I was off the mark.  While it’s always nice to be surprised by an ending of a book, I actually felt that the book fell apart slightly in the last 30 or so pages, and the ending, while satisfactory, was not as good as I had hoped or expected.

Much of the book is narrated by Towner, but at times it switched to a third person narrative – probably in order to tell events from the view of Rafferty, a Policeman who helps Towner, and who himself is searching for the truth behind the mysterious disappearances.  There is also a chunk of about 60 pages which is told by Towner, in the form of a short story she wrote when she was a teenager.  For me, these shifts in perspective did not really help the storyline, and I would have preferred the whole story to have been in either the first or third person, rather than changing between the two.

However, there were plenty of things to like about the book.  I very much enjoyed reading about Salem, and found it especially interesting as I will be visiting Salem later this year.  I loved reading about the traditions, stemming from the witch trials of the 1600s, and I thought that the author did an excellent job of describing the place, so that I could really get a sense of the atmosphere and setting of the story.

There was a definite undercurrent of tension throughout the book, which simmers nicely and adds an edge to the story.  Overall, I would describe this book as an interesting read, and would be interested in seeking out more books by Brunonia Barry.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a very moving story which made me feel angry and sad while I was reading it.

The book is narrated by Chief Bromden, a patient at a mental institution.  He is believed by staff and fellow patients to be deaf and dumb, but the truth (as we find out on page one) is that he is not, and is therefore perhaps more aware of what is going on around him some of the other patients.

Nurse Ratched rules her ward in the institution with a system of fear and intimidation.  Her coldness and cruelty is very apparent early on in the story. Such is her reign of fear that none of the inmates dare stand up to her.  Even the ward Doctor – her superior – is terrified of defying her.

Into this regime comes Randle P McMurphy, criminal, gambler and unlikely hero.  McMurphy has chosen to come to the institution in lieu of serving a custodial sentence on a work farm.  He believes that it will be a breeze, and expects almost a holiday camp.  As he finds out, the reality is very different.  He is shocked, not only by the nurse’s treatment of the patients, but by the way they just accept it.

McMurphy encourages to the men to start thinking for themselves, but this is something which does not go down at all well with the nurse, and her effort to maintain control over the patients leads to a drastic conclusion.

The characterization in this book is excellent.  It was clever on the part of the author to make McMurphy a not altogether likable man – it would have been too easy to turn him into a classic hero; instead we have a man who rebels against authority, is a known criminal, and encourages others to act out (albeit for their own good).  Nurse Ratched is a hateful character, although sadly, all too believable.  Her pleasure in intimidating the patients, and her frustration at finding someone who is not scared of her, is almost palpable.  Chief Bromden is also vividly portrayed – unsurprisingly, as the book is told from his point of view.

Well written, touching and even funny at times, this is a book I wish I had read a long time ago, and certainly intend to read again in the future.  I would also recommend watching the film adaptation, starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy.

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I have just watched this wonderful movie about guilt and redemption.  It stars Jeff Bridges, who is my favourite actor of all time, and Robin Williams.

Jeff plays Jack Lucas, an abrasive and arrogant DJ, who is inadvertently the catalyst for a horrific crime.  Crippled by his guilt, Jack has a chance encounter with Parry (Robin Williams), a homeless and apparently insane man, and the two men become friends after a fashion.

Jack is seeking some kind of redemption, to ease the burden on his conscience, and maybe, just maybe, Parry and he are able to help each other.  But the thing that connects them also threatens to tear them apart…

Will Jack become a better person?  And will Perry ever find peace and lasting love?  This is a very moving film, which explores how people cope in the face of adversity, and how people are affected by tragedy.  It’s also an exploration of friendship – just how much can a friendship survive through?

The film is romantic and fantastic, with some off beat humour, and very touching moments.  As always, Jeff Bridges is terrific.  Robin Williams makes his part totally his own.  This film is a joy to watch.  Look out for the waltz scene set in Grand Central Station – it’s probably my very favourite movie scene ever – beautifully done.

Year of release: 1991

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writer: Richard LaGravenese

Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl

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I can’t say that I really enjoyed this book, which I listened to as an audiobook rather than sitting down and reading. However, although this is the first time I have tried an audiobook, I don’t think that this had anything to do with why I didn’t enjoy it.

The book starts with Helen Knightly killing her elderly, mentally ill mother, and then takes place over the day following this. Helen is the narrator and she alternates between describing what she is doing at the present time, and describing the life she had with her mother, and how their relationship has stifled her throughout her entire life.

It’s hard to empathise with Helen, not just because of what she has done, but because she is actually a thoroughly dislikeable character – this may or may not be deliberate on the part of Alice Sebold. I found it depressing and eagerly looked forward to it ending – and the ending when it came was also a disappointment.

The characters were well crafted and fully rounded, but none of them were anyone I could feel anything towards. 

Overall, I would say that this was an interesting premise, but it just did nothing for me.  I’ve read two novels by Alice Sebold and was underwhelmed by both.  I did however think that Lucky (non-fiction) was an excellent and moving read. Maybe she is a writer whose non-fiction works better for me!

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