This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
REVIEWED BY LAURA STANNING
I have to confess, I wasn’t really expecting to like this book. I’m not a big fan of Jo Brand as a comedian and I was expecting something possibly entertaining, equally possibly something pretty crude. What I got was a sweet, sensitive book, beautifully written, which makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Alice is five years old, but already old enough to understand that some monsters aren’t banished by daylight. Her mother, Gina, suffers from a rare psychiatric condition and, when Alice is five, is sectioned for stalking the weather reporter on the local news. From then on, Alice only knows her mother as a stranger incarcerated in mental institutions or doped into a trance at home by the drugs the doctors give her. Alice’s father, Keith, is a kindly man struggling to deal with the disintegration of the woman he loved and a daughter whose feelings he doesn’t really understand. In a tentative way, Alice aged five is happy enough – she loves her father and has two friends as school, misfits like her, with whom she forms a contented trio.
Alice at fifteen is more confused; her friendship group is fracturing and she wishes that her mother could be normal and that she could explain to her father how she feels. The only person to whom she knows she can turn is Morrissey, lead singer of The Smiths. Alice’s conviction that she has a connection with Morrissey, that only he can understand her, makes you smile at the intensity with which you feel connections as a teenager, and simultaneously hold your breath in hope that her mother’s condition won’t turn out to run through Alice’s blood as well. Alice sets off to find her hero, never imagining that her quest will bring her closer to her mother than she could ever have imagined, or that the things she finds along the way may prove even more precious.
Doing some research for this review I discovered that Brand was in fact a psychiatric nurse, which explains both the depth of her knowledge about mental illness and her understanding of the way it affects those living with it, be they patient, relative or friend. Her central characters are highly realistic, despite their idiosyncrasies, and beautifully developed – so much so that a slightly crazy plot becomes eminently believable. Alice’s growing understanding of mental illness is heart-rending – you long for both her and her family to have the happy ending they all so deserve, and the hope of finding it keeps you turning the pages right to the end.
This is a perfectly balanced book – there are enough moments of humour to stop it being depressing, and enough thoughtfulness to prevent it seeming tasteless. I loved it. Hats off to Brand for producing a truly thought-provoking and entertaining novel – a rare combination indeed.