Poppy Shakespeare is a strange novel. I watched the Channel 4 adaptation a few years back. I didn’t get it. I watched it again of 4OD. I didn’t get it. So I decided to get the book and see if I could make heads or tails of it!
Poppy Shakespeare is a glamorous woman, a single mother, trying to find a job. But something strange happened after a computer based interview which caused her to be sent to the Day Hospital and the Dorothy Fish.
The Dorothy Fish is a psychiatric hospital.
N – our protagonist – is given the job of telling Poppy how things work, a mentor of sorts.
Soon we see a picture. The patients do not want to be discharged. The Dorothy Fish is organised by levels. The higher up you go the less ‘worse’ you are. People want to be in the Day Hospital. The best of both worlds.
This is a bizzare novel, but when you begin to see what the Clare Allan is trying to get across it become much more interesting.
The fundamental questions of the mad world – Who says your mad? Who says your sane? Why are some people allowed to decide this?
The mental health system is riddled with ambiguities, catch-22’s, people who play the system, which leave you frustrated, confused. Poppy Shakespeare highlights these with comic fashion.
I think Poppy was placed in the Day Hospital to compare the patients against her to deem them as normal. However it back fires. Poppy becomes increasingly more more unwell due to the stress of trying to get out of ‘the system’ at the Dorothy Fish. Showing that the stress of threatened sections/detentions and the lack of structure can lead to someone becoming more ill. If I am interpreting this wrong please tell me, and let me know what you got from this book.
Poppy Shakespeare is poignant, comic genius, fresh, and relevant.
A book that maybe at first glance seems so far away for the UK health system you realise that Clare Allan is speaking the truth at a emphasised, and comic level.
Quoted as a ‘modern day One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’
A definite read for those working in the mental health system, politicians, and patients. You will know some of the characters. You will recognise the frustrations, and you will laugh out loud.
4.5 out of 5