Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Comforts of Madness

The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer won the 1988 Whitbread Award and is now out of print. I don't understand that. I found it to be an amazing book. It was only 120 pages, a quick read, but very thought-provoking for me. Understand that I do have a Masters in Clinical Psychology so this was right up my alley.

It is a novel about a man named Peter who "had not spoken a word in anyone's living memory". Eventually the story tells some of his early family life with his parents and sister. It seems pretty clear that no one ever really took notice of the oddities in the family or that Peter did not speak. But it pretty much leaves the imagination to figure out the story of his early years.

As he grows older, he continues to retreat into more silence, that is, letting his body deteriorate until he no longer has any muscles, is unable to stand, feed himself etc. However, the story is told by him, letting the reader in on his thoughts and observations. Very interesting.

His description of himself: "The stiff one, old clay-boots with his clay head and his old clay balls, a scarcely breathing hotchpotch of hair, skin and bone, who flexed not the smallest extremity, not even a toe, who lay all night like a corpse himself, who had not spoken a word in anyone's living memory-me...."

The story tells of some of the attempts that have been made to "help" him in his institutional life. He does not know if any of his family is still alive, until one day a woman comes who says that she is his sister. She talks to him for awhile (and is clearly really his sister) but when the visit ends, she tells that staff that she had been mistaken, that was not her long;lost brother, leaving Peter still alone in his mind and body.

I don't understand at all why this book is out of print. I was able to get my copy from I very much recommend the book. Very interesting and thought-provoking, as I said. I found it fascinating!

Side-note: I couldn't find too much about the author. The back of the book states that "He was a staff nurse in a large psychiatric hospital in York, but is now devoting his full time to his writing." Remember, that this was written in 1988, so now 21 years later, I don't know what has become of him other than it looks like he did publish some other novels. Might be worth checking out.

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