Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mad Worlds by Bill Douglas

"In the night, John hears Da shouting, Ma cryng. He sees Dave - in the moonlight by the half-open door - poised, neck straining. He creeps from the bed to join his bruv in listening, but he can't make out what Da's shouting. He tiptoes back to bed." Opening Paragraph. 

Synopsis:  Young teacher John Chisholmis hanted by a past tragedy and, believing his wife no longer loves him, begins to experience a nervous breakdown. He is forcibly removed to Springwell, a harsh mental institution where he endures and witnesses abuse – some of this 'in the name of treatment' – and makes new, eccentric friends. He is certified and detained indefinitely. Although suicidal at times, he is determined to survive and escape. 

John’s wife Heather Chisholm, who has recently battled post-natal depression, is distraught. Left to care for their baby, she struggles to rally support from friends and family. Encountering John’s hostility on visiting him, and horrified at the conditions in which he is hopelessly trapped, she finds herself vulnerable to Sam Newman, an overworked Mental Health Officer instrumental in John’s detention. But he’s not the only one with his eye on her… 

Can Heather resist not only Sam, but also Sarge Parker, the sadistic and ambitious Charge Nurse who targets John for abuse? Will John ever escape the harsh environment in which he has been imprisoned? Will his relationship with Heather survive? And can Jamie Macdonald, the new Medical Superintendent, really transform Springwell into a caring community? 


Mad Worlds is a novel set in an era when England still operated under harsh, stigmatising Victorian legislation in the field of mental health. Readers are invited to eavesdrop on realistic scenarios, both within and outside a mental asylum of the 1950s. With flashes of dark humour, this is a curious, sometimes terrifying tale suitable for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in the issues of mental health, relationships and loss.

In 1950's England, mental illness was misunderstood. In Mad Worlds, author Bill Douglas delves deep into many of the philosophies and treatments asylum inmates were subjected to. The novel begins with a young teacher named John Chisholm whose emotional breakdown lands him in a mental institution. From there, things go from bad to worse. The story becomes dark, sometimes hopeless, sometimes shocking. It is a portrayal of a how miserable and difficult life could be for those who suffered from a mental illness. 

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