Poppy Shakespeare

I first read this book as a random find by a new author at my library when it had just been published in paperback, which must have been about two years ago.  Last night we discussed it at the library bok group.  I did not have especially good memories of the book so it came as a surprise when it was quite well received.

Undoubtedly the language takes a little getting used to because the narrator is "N" a user of the mental health system in more or less present day Britain.  I think there is one short chapter in which the phrase "Do you know what I'm saying?" crops up four times, for example!  There's also an ample sprinkling of profanity which may offend the more prudish reader.  Beyond that there are a few devices the author employs which could annoy; I think every character seems to have some adornment to their name, like "middle class Michael", "Slasher Sue" and so on.  The chapter structure is short and choppy and "N" is a little conversational, advising tht you can skip chapters if you have been to the daycentre, for example.

Although I didn't have time to reread the book properly and frankly would not chose to do so I did have a quick scan and was surprised that these annoyances did not get in the way for me the second time around.  Perhaps they are things one gets used to?

During the book group I also learned that the author speaks from experience having spent ten years as a user of the health system.  Some elements ring true - the way a group of patients may form a collectve community for example.  Many elements are exagerated to comic effect, like the idea of "Mad Money", an epithet for the benefits available to service users, for which it is required that one prove madnes to claim.  This sets up a reverse Catch 22 situtation for Poppy Shakespeare to prove she is mad, something that is played upon for most of the book and makes a plank for the plot.

Personally I could not help thinking the author was heavily influenced by Catch-22, One flew over the cuckoos nest, and Cold Comfort Farm.  The last is the most tentative, but there were elements of the writing which I found rang bells with my memories of Stella Gibbons work.  I have to be honest and say they are elements that do not endear the authors to me, but for all that I guess it's still worth a read.  I cannot help feeling her ending is extremely dark and bleak and I'm not sure why - at the book group we wondered if it might be because the book is dedicated to someone who was a user of the system for whom things did not go well.  That would not surprise me but it does depress me