logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Mental
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-03-14 03:28
Beside Myself | Ann Morgan | Full Review
Beside Myself - Kelli Ann Morgan

I'm going to preface this review by saying that, even after successfully making it all the way through this book, I still don't understand the abundance of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book.

 

Beside Myself is described as a "literary thriller", literary being shorthand for descriptive (but not quite prose) writing, and thriller.... I'm not sure. The book definitely ramps up toward the end, but it isn't an edge-of-your-seat what-will-happen-next thriller. By the middle I was invested enough to want to know Hellie's fate, but that was about it.

 

Hellie is Helen. Except she's not, she's Ellie. Helen and Ellie are six year old twins who swap places, a 'prank' of sorts, it's really Helen's idea, but suddenly Ellie begins to enjoy the privileges her twin's life affords her and refuses to finish the game and swap back. Helen is pushed into the "Ellie" box, where she is expected to be less than smart, to have some issues, which only makes it harder for people to listen when she insists that she isn't Ellie, she's Helen. It's an interesting idea for a book, and the idea itself deserves the four and five stars, but other than that it falls short.

 

I don't like Helen, and as much as she is actually a victim in her story, I couldn't really root for her. Normally unlikeable characters are my thing, but her treatment of Ellie from childhood just couldn't make me like her. It's evident to me that a lot of Ellie's troubles are actually from Helen's treatment of her. Helen constantly belittles her, makes fun of her, and bullies her alongside her friends. Why wouldn't Ellie want to be Helen? Helen's the golden child, the one who follows all the rules, the one who their (admittedly off-kilter) mother loves.

 

None of this was what prompted my below average review however. 

 

Reading this book made me annoyed, then frustrated, then angry. How half of this made it through the editing process I have no idea, and I can't find many other reviews that mention it. Beside Myself is written in chapters that alternate between the present and the past. Except that the present chapters are written in third-person past tense, and the past chapters are written in first-person present tense. It doesn't make sense story-telling wise. 

 

Then, halfway through the book, for no explicable reason, the past chapters switch to second-person present tense (from "I do this" to "You do this"). Needless to say, I was ripped out from my little reading cloud asking "Wait, what?" After some thought I could come up with a reason this might be done, namely to do with Helen's disconnect with her own identity, but if that's what it is it is never explained. I couldn't get past it.

 

The second thing that bothered me a little that other reviews touched on, was the multiple things characters are referred to. While the main story doesn't have a large cast of characters, each one is often referred to by multiple names. I didn't have trouble in following this, but other reviewers have apparently. Examples include: Helen referred to as Helen, Ellie, and Smudge. Ellie referred to as Ellie, Helen, Hellie (Hellie is a good identifier as it is the Helen version of Ellie), and their step-father being called Horace and Arkela. 

 

Onto the third (it wasn't until writing this review I realised how many problems I had with this book). As in my preface, the term "literary" here is used for descriptive. Evidently the author has never been told that you can have too much description. I actually quite like prose writing and descriptive writing myself, but the problem with Beside Myself is the needless description of everything in every moment, and the repetitiveness of this description. This description is actually problematic in one instance:

"There was a tray in front of her and a pair of chocolate-coloured hands manouvering it into position ... "There," said the nurse in a sing-song Nigerian accent"

There are problems with describing a person of colour as being "chocolate", not to mention the fact that it's an incredibly overused identifier, but Morgan then goes on to explicitly state that she was Nigerian. Most people, I would think, would be aware that Nigerians are PoC. 

 

My fourth and final issue with the book is similar, it is the repetitiveness of some descriptions. Nearly every scene that refers to some kind of sex act is described as "(someone) moving above (her, me, you)". There are probably a million ways to describe this, and while this works as a way to tell readers what is happening, it's dull and repetitive by the second or third time. 

 

Now, some more good words about this book.

 

While it isn't exactly a thriller it is actually an interesting look into some great themes including Identity, mental illness, suicide, and family. If that is something you are interested in it's probably worth giving this book a shot, despite my less than stellar review. Although I don't think Helen/Smudge's illness is explicitly stated it is clear that she suffers from manic and depressive episodes as well as hallucinations and self-identity problems, and Beside Myself provides an interesting insight into the mental goings on of a character who suffers from this. I would be interested to see the opinions and reviews of someone who may be able to relate to the Helen/Smudge character.

 

It is important to note though this book should carry some warnings, it does include scenes/mention of: mental illness, suicide, and rape.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-03-03 10:53
Tragedies that should be remembered and never repeated
Warnings Unheeded - Massad Ayoob,Andy Brown

Thanks to the author for providing me with a free copy of his book that I review as part of Rosie’s Books Review Team.

I am a psychiatrist and have worked in forensic psychiatry (looking after patients with a history of dangerous behaviour and, on occasions, criminal records) and therefore when I was approached by this writer about the book, my interest was twofold. Although I’m not currently working as a psychiatrist, I wanted to read the book to see what lessons there were to be learned, especially from the incident of mass shooting, as it was particularly relevant to the issues of mental health assessment and treatment. I was also interested, as a reader, a writer and a member of the public, in how the author would write about the incidents in a manner that would engage the readership. More than anything, I was interested in reading about his personal experience.

As a reader (not that I’m sure I can take my psychiatrist hat off that easily), the book intertwines both incidents, that coincided in the same setting, Fairchild Air Force Base, within a week period. We are given information about previous concerns about the flying acrobatics of Holland, whose antics had worried a number of people at the time, although in his case we don’t get to know much about the person (the information is more about those who reported concerns and the way those were ignored or minimised), and, in much more detail, about the past history and behaviours of Mellberg, that read as a catalogue of unheeded warnings and missed opportunities.

Concerns about Mellberg follow him from school, where he was a loner, suffered bullying, never made friends and showed some odd behaviour and continue when he joins the Air Force. He becomes paranoid, starts harassing his roommate and despite concerns and assessments, he is simply moved from one place to the next, and the mental health assessments are either intentionally ignored or missed. Later on, when somebody decides to take action, there is no evidence of follow-up or organised system to check what happens when somebody is discharged for mental health reasons (some changes ensue, thanks mostly to the efforts of Sue Brigham [the wife of Dr Brigham, one of Mellberg’s victims], after the fact) and readers can feel how the tension builds up to the point where it’s only a matter of time until a serious incident happens.

Brown, the author, shares his background and his career progression to that point, his interest in policing and security from a young age, and he happens to coincide in time and space with Mellberg, being the first to respond to the calls for assistance when Mellberg starts shooting, first the people he blames for his discharge from the air force, and later, anybody who crosses his path. Although we know what’s going to happen, and, in a way, Brown has always been preparing for something like this, the reality is no less shocking.

Brown’s description of events, what the victims did, and what he did is exemplary, and it shows his experience in crime scene investigation. We can clearly reconstruct what happened minute by minute (almost second by second). As the description is interspersed with witness statements and personal detail I didn’t find it excessive, although that might depend on what readers are used to (I know from personal experience of writing reports that accuracy and details are prime, but that’s not what readers of fiction are used to, for example). The book also includes photographs of the scenes of both incidents, diagrams of the sites, etc.

As I said above, although the reader gets the same sense of impending doom when reading about the dangerous and reckless flight manoeuvres Holland does, we don’t get to know much about Holland as a man, only about his experience flying. The issue of warnings not being acted upon is highlighted, but we don’t know if anything else might have been behind Holland’s behaviour, and we’re therefore less personally invested in the case. I must also confess to having little understanding of acrobatics and individual planes capabilities, so I found some of the details about that incident more difficult to follow and perhaps unnecessary for the general reader (the message is clear even if we don’t know exactly how the gs a fuselage can bear might be determined).

Brown’s own reaction to the shooting and his difficulties getting his PTSD acknowledged and treated form the latter part of the book, and they come to illustrate a side of these tragedies that is hardly ever commented upon or discussed in detail, as if sweeping things under a carpet and not talking about them would make them disappear. (As he notes, people don’t know how to react: they either joke about the incident or avoid talking about it completely). He honestly shares his struggle, how long it took him to understand what was happening to him, the less than helpful behaviours he engaged in, and his self-doubt and guilt feelings, not helped by the reluctance of the Air Force to share the information he requests. He had the added difficulty of being removed from service every time he tried to get help, something that he, understandingly, saw as a punishment. He eventually decided to leave active service to try and find peace of mind, but it was a lengthy and difficult process, that might vary from individual to individual. It is always helpful, though, to know that one is not alone and it is not just a matter of getting over it, and that’s why personal accounts are so important.

Brown offers conclusions and lessons on how to keep safe. Although I don’t necessarily agree with some of the comments (the right to bear arms and use them for self-defense is a very controversial subject and I currently live in a country where not even the police carry them regularly), I agree with the importance of being aware of the risks, with the need to be more sensitive to the mental health needs of the population, with the importance of providing follow-up and support to those who experience mental disorders and also the need to see human beings in a holistic way, rather than only treating their bodies and ignoring their minds.

This is an important book that should be read by people who work in law enforcement (either in the military or in a civil environment), provide security to organisations, and of course by psychologist and psychiatrists alike. It is not a book to read for entertainment, and it is definitely not a light read, but I would also recommend it to people who research the subject and/or are interested in real crime and PTSD. I wonder if a shorter version of the book, dealing specifically with the PTSD experience of the author might be useful to other survivors of trauma who might find the rest of the book too difficult to read.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-23 04:13
Interior world
Silently and Very Fast - Catherynne M. Valente

This was so fucking weird. Gorgeous mind-screw. There is no way to really understand unless you walk the fine edge between paying close attention and just letting it flow. I can't even give a proper summary without diving into spoiler territory.

 

Dream-like and powerful in imagery, heavy on symbol, it draws a lot on traditional narrative devices and gives stark, analytical spins to them, (sometimes to such a violent degree, it becomes surprising or disquieting, and I've done my fair amount of research on the psychology of myth and fairy-tales; that's Valente for you). Monomyth is a concept that comes up a lot. Turing test too, to an ironic (bittersweet, vindictive, awesome) final mention.

 

It's a slow piece, patchwork style and complex. It demands you to think, about what you are reading and about things like the definition of feelings, of love, of being and self, of likeness and difference, of knowledge against imitation, and where the line is drawn. I had to reassess many of them in my mind as I read, and that's really something.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-17 23:56
Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order
South Riding - Shirley Williams,Marion Shaw,Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-16 16:28
Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet
Sweet Lamb of Heaven: A Novel - Lydia Millet

Hm. Hmmm. This is a difficult book to write about as it defies easy genre placement. It has notes of thriller, horror, SF/speculative fiction, and philosophy. I chose to shelve it under "literary fiction" because I don't see a conflict between the literary and genre elements.

 

Judging by the three-star average rating, most will either love or be confounded by and hate this novel. It took some warming up for me, and I have other quibbles about characterization and writing style. But when I finished the book, I wanted to jump back in and discuss it.

 

It's a novel of big (and politically relevant) ideas wrapped in a domestic thriller. The story centers on a mom and her young daughter. The mother, Anna, hears a voice. Not voices, one voice, and much of the novel's first quarter or third is spent characterizing this voice--what it is and isn't, if not why it is at all. Then, the voice stops. Anna is relieved but still puzzled. More importantly, she has to get away from her husband, who is revealing himself to be a sociopath. She sets out on her own with her daughter and shacks up at a motel in New England. Her husband doesn't care until he decides to run for a government office. He wants his estranged wife and kid around as political props. Anna resists but is threatened.

 

Interspersed with events are bits of research Anna has done on the voice--on language and communication across species, flora and fauna, on God and mental health, community and self-hood. She's found a small community at the isolated motel, and they contribute to her understanding. The closer she comes to making sense of things, the more danger she's in until matters reach a breaking point, not felt until she realizes just how much she's been manipulated.

 

Millet is posing some big questions and making assertions that ring especially true in our new extreme-right and digital environments. I haven't yet sorted through all the implications of the story, but I'm happy for the challenge.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?