Friday, May 06, 2022

Five books tracing the portrayal of mental disorders in literature

While working full time as a physician, Jane Shemilt received an M.A. in creative writing. She was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for The Daughter, her first novel. She and her husband, a professor of neurosurgery, have five children and live in Bristol, England.

Shemilt's new novel is The Patient.

At CrimeReads the author tagged five books that
reflect the age in which they were written; if mental illness is diagnosed by doctors it is also defined by society because society decides what makes behaviour unusual, undesirable or even ‘mad.’
One title on the list:
Sorrow and Bliss, by Meg Mason (2021)

Martha Friel is forty, married to Patrick and close to her sister Ingrid.

Martha is clever, compassionate, sharp eyed and sharp tongued especially when identifying the failings of those she loves. She is also crushed by the recurring illness she has had since aged seventeen.

Her particular condition isn’t named but she makes us see how mental illness carves its shape deeply into the sufferers’ lives and also into those of their families. The author has said her decision not to name her illness was a creative one that worked to serve a broader narrative: it is not the schizophrenic book or the bipolar book or the borderline personality disorder book, it’s a book about what it’s like to have x illness, to look after someone with x illness and what it does to the extended family and the marriage. The illness is less important than how Martha lives and how she relates to others.

This avoids the medicalisation of an individual; what is ultimately important is Martha’s ability to understand herself and see herself for who she really is; she determines to try again with her relationship. The ending is hopeful and demonstrates among many other truths how far the wheel of attitudes to mentally ill people, as reflected in literature, has turned, through successive ages since the days of sufferers being blamed and locked away to the patient rather than the illness being allowed to flourish, centre stage.
Read about another entry on the list.

Sorrow and Bliss is among Alyssa Vaughn's [February 2021] 42 books to help you get through the rest of quarantine.

The Page 69 Test: Sorrow and Bliss.

--Marshal Zeringue