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Zachary, A. (2014). Review Essay: The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor. Published by Penguin Books, London, 2014; 290 pp; £18.99 hardback. Brit. J. Psychother., 30(4):537-543.
(2014). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 30(4):537-543
Review Essay: The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor. Published by Penguin Books, London, 2014; 290 pp; £18.99 hardback
Review by: Anne Zachary, M.B., B.S., FRCPsych
Barbara Taylor, an academic historian who is already an acclaimed writer, has written a remarkable book. Both personal and informed, on many different levels it is an important testimony to a variety of significant issues relating to mental health. Specifically, the focus is on the waning of the Victorian asylums, notably Friern Hospital in north London where she became a patient herself, and their closure in the latter part of the 20th century. That history is powerfully conveyed before the book is even opened, as the front cover has an eerie photograph of a long corridor in Friern, where I worked for a time. This immediately produces an almost visceral response in me. When I see it, I feel I can smell it. The dry smell of cold stone, floor polish, cigarette smoke, food cooking, or all of these, combined with a smell of fear? I have written about this myself recently (Zachary, 2013) and about cycling along this corridor while on duty at night, too afraid to walk. The photograph is overlaid by the title of the book, The Last Asylum, interspaced with the subtitle, A Memoir of Madness in Our Times, and this is how the book is written. It is an intricately woven compilation of the author's personal biography, her reach for psychoanalysis with V,1 a descent into madness and admission to hospital but, at the same time, a commentary on the changing times for psychiatric care as the NHS became increasingly managed economically by the 1990s.
Barbara Taylor had already written her first book, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, when her mental health began to break down.
[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]