Synopses & Reviews
The most extraordinary look at madness since One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Highly original and darkly funny, Clare Allan's debut novel explores the relationship between N., a patient in a mental institution, and Poppy Shakespeare, a new and disturbingly 'sane' arrival who finds herself having to feign mental illness in order to be released.
There are 25 residents at the Dorothy Fish, one for each letter of the alphabet the 'X' chair is vacant. The day hospital sits on the bottom floor of an impossibly tall tower, stretching so high into the sky that its uppermost residents can see right round the world and back in through the window behind them. The system is simple: the crazier you are, the higher up the tower they put you.
When Poppy Shakespeare arrives, N. has already been at Dorothy Fish for thirteen years, and spends her days quietly, smoking in the common room and swapping medication with her fellow patients. But what happens in the next six months will change both of their lives forever.
In this inventive and brutally comic novel, Clare Allan captures the familiar and sometimes terrifying idiosyncrasies of a modern institution, asking the question: who is mad and who is sane? And who gets to decide? By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Poppy Shakespeare is a significant achievement of voice and insight.
"The line between sanity and lunacy blurs in this ironic debut novel, a British import whose obvious inspiration is Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The narrator is 'N,' a female patient in a London mental institution, a self-described 'dribbler' whose 'mum was a dribbler and her mum as well 'cept she never seen her hardly, grown up in a home while they scooped out bits of her mother's brain, like a tater.' N, a 13-year veteran of the hospital, is charged with taking the newest patient under her wing, the eponymous Poppy, who insists there's absolutely nothing wrong with her. But Poppy soon confronts the legal bureaucracy of the mental health system and learns that in this Alice-in-Wonderland, off-kilter world she will have to feign madness before can prove herself sane. Is Poppy deluded or is government bureaucracy the source of society's ills? And are we, the people, mad for giving government the power to label us as insane or sane in the first place? Readers must navigate a working class British dialect as well as specifics about the British mental health system. But those who hang on for this often painfully funny, difficult ride will gain insight about love, friendship and human nature that only a crazy person can properly articulate." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"While Allan is hardly the first to explore this territory, in Poppy Shakespeare she creates a satisfyingly complex, darkly satiric and deeply claustrophobic world." Tom Barbash, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] darkly funny, excruciating first novel....Allan's triumph...is pure voice: N's loopy, dead-on rants...blur the line between the mad and the sane, and express how the disenfranchised experience authority." The New Yorker
Highly original and darkly funny, Allan's debut novel explores the relationship between a patient in a mental institution, and Poppy Shakespeare, a new and disturbingly "sane" arrival who finds herself having to feign mental illness in order to be released.
About the Author
Clare Allan lives in London and has been published in The Guardian and a number of magazines. In 2002 she won the Orange/Harpers and Queen short story competition. This is her first novel.