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This 80,000-word novel follows two main characters:

 

Young teacher John Chisholm, who is haunted by a past tragedy and believes his wife no longer loves him, is stressed to near-breakdown. He is forcibly removed to a harsh mental institution, Springwell, where he is certified and detained indefinitely. He endures and witnesses abuses – some in the name of treatment – and meets fascinating eccentric fellow inmates. Although suicidal at times, he resolves to survive and escape.

 

His wife Heather Chisholm, who has recently battled a post-natal depression, is distraught. While pining for John, she sees her priority as ensuring their infant child is properly cared for, and tries to rally support from neighbours and her parents. Encountering John’s hostility on visiting, and horrified at the conditions in which John is hopelessly trapped, she becomes vulnerable to romantic overture.

 

Others through whom parts of the drama unfold, are: Sam Newman, the local authority Mental Health Officer responsible for tackling emergency situations, who is instrumental in John’s removal to Springwell, and who lusts after Heather; ‘Sarge’ Parker, an ambitious and sadistic Charge Nurse who sees patients as madmen to be coerced, targets John for abuse, and vows he’ll seduce Heather; Jamie Macdonald, who emerges latterly as the new Medical Superintendent, driven by personal experience and ideals to attempt reform in Springwell.

 

Will John ever escape the harsh threatening environment in which he is imprisoned? How can his relationship with Heather survive? Can grief-stricken Heather, further burdened by her parents' 'terrible' secret, get the help she desperately needs for her and her beloved child? How will she respond to the advances of the helpful Newman, and of the ‘friendly’ Parker? And, critically for John, can Macdonald make any real impact on fortress Springwell?

 

Mad Worlds…’ is a novel set in an era when England still operated under harsh, stigmatising Victorian legislation in the field of mental health. Readers are invited to eavesdrop on realistic scenarios, both within and outside a mental asylum of the 1950s. With flashes of dark humour, this is an intriguing, sometimes horrifying tale suitable for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in issues of mental health, relationships and loss.

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Mad Worlds - A Tale of Despair and Hope in 1950s England

Mad Worlds, Bill Douglas

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