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#TuesdayBookBlog MATILDA WINDSOR IS COMING HOME by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A moving look at mental health care as it was

Hi all:

Today I don’t bring you one of my usual reviews. The author of this novel, Anne Goodwin, contacted me ahead of its publication because she thought I might be interested to read it due to the topic and the story. She couldn’t have been more right, and rather than a review, I ended up writing a reflection on the type of thoughts and memories the novel brought to my mind. The book is being published by Inspired Quill on the 29th of May 2021, but I wanted to share it today because the author is holding a virtual book launch this Thursday, 27th of May, and I wanted to give those of you interested a chance to join in (I share the link below). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, as I am teaching an English lesson at that time on a Thursday afternoon, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. And without further ado:

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.

Find out more on Matilda Windsor’s webpage

Book links

Matilda Windsor webpage

Matilda Windsor link tree


Matilda Windsor’s Twitter @MWiscominghome

Matilda Windsor at Inspired Quill:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.


Twitter @Annecdotist.

Link tree

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel


Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Inspired Quill:

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My review:

I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.

Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss, and despair.

Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.

This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.

As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.

A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.

Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.

I haven’t forgotten the invitation to the online launch. Tickets can be booked here:

Thanks to the author for sharing this novel with me. As you can see from my comments, it brought back many memories. Thanks to all of you for reading, and if you know anybody who might be interested, remember to share and pass the message on. Remember that it will be published on the 29th of May, so not long to go. Remember to keep safe and keep smiling!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

41 replies on “#TuesdayBookBlog MATILDA WINDSOR IS COMING HOME by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A moving look at mental health care as it was”

Thanks, Priscilla. Anne is well acquainted with the situation, and although I didn’t get to see the old asylums at full functioning, I did come across many patients that had spent years there. It might be difficult to imagine, but it wasn’t long ago. It is important such stories are told, and Anne has created very memorable characters.

This sounds like a rarity, a book that really needed to be written. In my time in the Ambulance Service, I attended those old Gothic hospitals like Friern Barnet, seeing people standing against walls, or banging their heads in corridors. Large groups of unsupervised patients creating a cacophony of noise in huge rooms, and overworked nurses losing the ability (and the will) to cope.
I was still an EMT when Care In The Community began. In the run-down part of West London where I was based, that proved to be a disaster initially. Many people who were completely institutionalised after almost a lifetime in hospital were given flats in high-rise block, and more or less left to fend for themselves. That first year, so many committed suicide by jumping from height, that we named them ‘The falling leaves of Thatcherism’, as it had been her idea to ‘save money’ by doing this. (So we were told)
Most people have now forgotten the huge asylums of London like Friern Barnet and St Bernard’s (Hanwell), and although this book is set in Cumbria, it is a much-needed reminder.
Best wishes, Pete.

Thanks, Pete, for sharing your memories and your experiences. It was a pretty complicated moment, and although things have moved on, what happened shouldn’t be forgotten.
Like many other experiments to try to save money, it had a very dark side. The idea was not bad, but the implementation left a lot to be desired, because, as you say, you cannot expect people who have led institutionalised and “sheltered” lives and with very complex care needs to, suddenly adapt to life outside by themselves. To do a good job, care in the community requires a lot of well-prepared staff and plenty of resources, and those need to be put into place before closing the hospitals. While in a hospital there are normally more people around and procedures in place, outside things are a bit more complicated and although patients might get on very well with their care-worker, that person is not going to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so it all needs to be well-planned. And not all patients can live independently, even with the best care and will in the world.
You’re right. This book is needed, for sure.
Stay well.

Thanks, Teagan. Yes, Anne is writing from personal experience and about a particularly difficult period in public psychiatry in the UK. Although the story is fictional, it is based on many similar cases, unfortunately. Thanks for reading it, and don’t worry, I know you’re very busy. Stay safe, and I hope things are settling down a bit for you. 🙂

Thanks for sharing your reflections, Pete. As Olga says, it was an extremely complex situation with the risk of, on the one hand, recreating the institution in the community, and leaving people insufficiently supported on the other. I didn’t work in London, but new people who did, and a lot of resource went into supporting people through the transition – although clearly not enough in the cases you mention which must have been extremely distressing to witness.
It’s unfortunate that politicians perceived closing wards an opportunity to make financial savings as the clinicians involved were well aware that decent and dignified care for vulnerable people is costly.

You too, Olga.
By the way, let me know if you’re interested in joining our Educational Collaborative blog.

I can post the link here if you like (not sure if it’d be ok, so thought I’d ask first…)

Thanks, Shira. My teaching experience is very limited, and at the moment I’m only teaching a couple of private students of English on a one-to-one basis, pretty individualised content, so I don’t have much to contribute. Is it “Critical Thinking for Human Community” the blog you refer to? I can see the link when I read your comments, so I can visit it directly. If not, feel free to post it here. Thanks and good luck.

Actually, Olga, it’s not ‘teacher’ or ‘teaching’ posts that I’m interested in, but rather simply posts that show the importance of learning, as kids or as adults.
This is a new blog that Ned and I have started reposting to, (“Critical Thinking for Human Community is my blog), and I’ve reposted the idea for everyone there on my blog, which is just that we repost one of your posts, and then your repost one of ours, as long as it relates to long term learning, or to democracy:


Thanks, Shira. For a while now, I’ve only been sharing book reviews on my blog, but I’ll keep your suggestion in mind if I post content that fits the new blog. A great idea, by the way. Good luck!

I honestly had no idea it was like this in the UK so recently, Olga. It really is rather a shock to learn this. I am hoping to attend at least some of Anne’s launch party tomorrow. The book sounds fascinating.

Thanks, Robbie. Yes, things take a long time to change, and not all was bad about the old system, but it was terrible for some people. I hope you can manage and attend. I’m teaching a class at that time, so I’ll miss it, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. It’s a very moving book. Stay safe.

Hi Olga, I hope you’re having a good day at work. I’m sorry to be so late to this marvelous post. First, wishing Anne huge success. I’ve seen her around the blogosphere a couple of times, but didn’t know anything of her work. It’s clearly first-rate.
I very much enjoyed reading your personal perspective on this book. It was helpful in several ways. At first look, I was certain this was going to be a whimsical, happy story. Now I realize it is not at all. However, the characters sound marvelously written. The setting is one that always intrigues me, as my first career choice was psychiatry — when I was ten years old, and later in the mid 1980s with my first serious go at higher education for psychology. As you know, I had to take other paths. Anne’s book seems richly crafted. Thanks and best wishes to you both. Hugs on the wing!

Thanks, Teagan. Yes, I think we’ve viewed each other from a distance, but are edging closer!
I love my cover but it does concern me people could expect a light read. It is whimsical, but also tragic. I didn’t set out to make it comic, but it seems to have worked.

Fantastic insights in your in-depth review of Anne’s book Olga. It certainly looks a fascinating read, despite the disturbing issues. I will add this book for sure. Congrats to Anne! <3

Thanks, Anne. Yours is a very atmospheric novel, and I couldn’t help but find myself taking a trip down memory lane. All the best. ♥

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