Madeline is incarcerated in a mental asylum, having lived there for over 20 years, she has come to accept her life in an institution. One day a new doctor, Dr Lucas, decides to try to unlock memories of what happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, and with it, gives hope to Madeline that she may one day be released. As the treatment progresses Madeline struggles with memories that re-emerge and wonders if the promise of release is worth the pain the memories trigger.
There is an air of melancholy and detachedness that runs through this novel. This reflects Madeline’s outlook on the world, she has detached herself from the outside world, so long ago now she cannot, or will not remember why.
Whilst religion runs through this book it less about every day beliefs and more about religious zealotry and dogma. It plays a major part in Madeline’s breakdown, though it is unclear whether it is because of her religious indoctrination that her breakdown plays out as it does, or despite it. As the story develops and the more we learn of her parents, it becomes clear that although her upbringing is unusual, and will have affected her mental state, Madeline’s condition may also have been hereditary. However, Madeline is an unreliable narrator and we can never be sure what is fact and what is fiction. This is not an easy read, and part of that has to be intentional and due to the fact that Madeline is such an unreliable narrator.
What I did find shocking was how those with a mental illness were treated in the institution. There was a distinct lack of rehabilitation apparent, it appeared more like the patients were inmates and spent most of the time drugged to keep them compliant. It was more reminiscent of how one would imagine such patients were treated in the past than in the 21st Century.
I struggled with the book at times. Not because of all the religious connotations, I let these wash over me, but more with the language fourteen year old Madeline uses in her diary entries. This was not the language I would assume, rightly or wrongly, would come easily and naturally to a teenager on the brink of puberty. I found myself more interested in the older Madeline, and how she was responding to treatment than to the younger Madeline and her journey to being institutionalised.
When it comes, the release Madeline gains, is perhaps not the one she thought she was seeking, but the one she needed nonetheless.
In summary a book I found equally interesting, frustrating, uncomfortable and thought-provoking.