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#TuesdayBookBlog STOLEN SUMMERS: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A close and personal look at UK society and mental health care in the XX century #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the prequel (well, sort of) a book I reviewed some time ago, and one many readers have read and loved since.

Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin

Stolen Summers: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

https://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.es/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

Universal link: https://books2read.com/StolenSummers

Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

An award-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of award-winning short stories.

Author social media 

Website annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

Book blog Annecdotal

Amazon author page viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin

YouTube Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Facebook Annecdotist

Instagram authorannegoodwin

Newsletter subscribe

TikTok @annegoodwinauthor

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I was lucky enough to read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, the previous book Anne Goodwin wrote about the same character, Matilda, before its publication as well, and I was moved, saddened, touched, and delighted, all in one. A tragic story, made worse because, although fictional, it is not an uncommon one, and it bears witness to the many people who ended up spending their lives in the old psychiatric asylums, sometimes for reasons that had little to do with their mental health.

In this novella, which the author describes as a prequel, but, at least in my opinion, isn’t exactly that, we get to fill in some of the gaps of the previous book. This novella, although written in the third person (apart from some letters Matilda addresses to her brother, Henry, one of the characters who play a major part in the original novel) only has one narrator, Matilda herself, and it alternates two different periods of time: 1939-1940, exploring what happens when Matilda first arrives at Ghyllside Hospital, the trauma it supposes, and readers can start to see how and why her mind starts to unravel; and a particular day in 1964, when one outing with one of her friends and hospital peers, Doris, turns into a nightmare. We also get to see, though briefly, the consequences of that outing, and there is a chapter at the end, set in 1989, which functions as an epilogue, and links it directly with Matilda Windsor.

This novella shares the virtues of the previous book, and it bridges the possible gaps left by the other, as we get to see more of what Matilda experienced and share with her some of the terrible humiliations and spirit-breaking practices she had to suffer. Seeing her robbed of her dignity, ignored (at best) or abused, the subject of dubious psychiatric treatments and moral judgements, and experiencing loss, guilt, and repeated trauma, it is no surprise that her mind sought refuge in a fantasy world that granted her an important and grand role in life.

I loved the way the story puts readers in the shoes of the protagonist, and we get to live what happens through her own eyes: the fear, the trashed hopes, the moments of joy, the many disappointments, the companionship, the grief, the confusion… This is not an easy read, and I caution people who might have experienced or known similar events, as it is heartbreaking at times. The author also manages to include snippets about the historical and social events taking place in the UK during those eras. We hear about WWII and how the recruitment efforts reached even the psychiatric hospitals; we also hear about race relations and discrimination; domestic violence and its terrible consequences (Doris’s story brought tears to my eyes); changes in Mental Health law and in the understanding of mental illness definitions, classifications, and treatments… It is particularly telling to see how isolated and “protected” (in a certain way) the character is from the outside world, and how she can hardly recognise her own town when she goes back 25 years later. It is a sobering thought.

Although the story centres on Matilda, there are a few other characters we meet. Doctors (very few make an appearance, unsurprisingly considering how things were run at the time) and nurses are not identified by name, and seem interchangeable, not individualised, as they might have appeared to Matilda, for very good reasons. Other patients do have a more important part to play, and I adored Doris. She suffered a terrible loss, but she is a survivor, and she helps Matilda keep afloat and keep going. Some of her behaviours reminded me of many patients I have met over the years, but she is pretty unique.

The writing is as beautiful and poignant as in the previous book. Although there are no lengthy descriptions of people or places, the author manages to make us feel the sensations, the touch, notice the smells, and be gripped by fear and embarrassment as Matilda is. The characters’ expressions and turns of phrases are distinctive and reflect the era and the location, and the pass of time and the changes in social mores are brought to the fore by the way the story is narrated.

As I said, I am not sure this novella would work as a prequel, though. Having read the novel first, it is difficult to think how it would feel to read this one without knowing anything about the character beforehand. Part of the story in Matilda Windsor takes place before 1939, although the majority of the story is set many years later, right at the point where we leave Matilda and a new character is introduced in the novella. I can see how this narrative fits in neatly with the rest of the story, and I am sure that people who read it first will glean enough information from it to make an educated guess as to what is likely to have happened, and will be eager to find out the rest by reading the main novel. On the other hand, considering the way Matilda Windsor is constructed and told, I think the impact of reading the full novel and putting the pieces together might be lost if Stolen Summers is read first. Ultimately, both of them are fantastic, so the order in which they are read may well be a moot point.

Another great story by Anne Goodwin, and one I recommend to all who have read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. And to those who haven’t yet, but are interested in the topic, enjoy great characters, and a story that touches upon social justice with a focus on mental health, now you can choose, if you want, to read Stolen Summers first, but I am sure you will end up reading both of them. Highly recommended. 

(An aside: As a psychiatrist, I have never seen or even heard, from colleagues or patients, of the use of wet packs, although a bit of research brings plenty of information on them, and it seems that they might still be in use for children or adolescents in the autistic spectrum, or as a hydrotherapy treatment, although applied quite differently to the novella’s description. I have seen ECTs used (and yes, as junior doctors we had to perform those as part of our training) with very good effect on patients suffering from severe depression. There is plenty of evidence of their effectiveness, more than for most other psychiatric treatments, but the indications and circumstances of their use have changed, and they are highly regulated and only used as a last resort these days, at least in my personal experience).

Oh, and for those of you who love authors’ readings, here you have Anne Goodwin reading a fragment from Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=675jdrY79qA&t=8s

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to Rosie and the whole team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, to keep doing what makes you happy, and to always keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#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 https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/matilda-windsor.html

Matilda Windsor link tree https://linktr.ee/matildawindsor

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57764021-matilda-windsor-is-coming-home

Matilda Windsor’s Twitter @MWiscominghome

Matilda Windsor at Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/matilda-windsor-is-coming-home/

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1913117057/

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/1913117057/

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.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist.

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Annecdotist

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/blog/anne-goodwin/

Newsletter signup https://bit.ly/daughtershorts

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:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/matilda-windsor-is-coming-home-book-launch-tickets-151938446985

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!

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