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Likierman, M. (1989). The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer, Constable, £9.95 (1988 Whitbread Book of the Year Winner of the 1988 Constable Trophy for fiction). Free Associations, 1R(17):132-134.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):132-134

The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer, Constable, £9.95 (1988 Whitbread Book of the Year Winner of the 1988 Constable Trophy for fiction)

Review by:
Meira Likierman

Paul Sayer has transformed an unpalatable subject into a compelling, poignant narrative, and has managed not to sacrifice realism in the process. Much of his success in doing so lies in the imaginative application of a Kafkaesque device derived from ‘The Metamorphosis’. The narrator, Peter, is a long-stay psychiatric patient who is catatonic, and hence unable to talk, eat, move or otherwise help himself. Like Kafka's insect Peter retains an unimpaired psyche behind a repellent exterior, and is thus able to observe his environment's response to madness from a particularly revealing vantage point. Just as ‘The Metamorphosis’ is not about an insect's inner life, so is this story not about the experience of being mad. Instead, Peter has the function of an invisible eye, catching others unawares and recording their raw responses to a completely helpless fellow-human. We learn about the clumsy attempts of his professional carers to deal with him, their impersonal and somewhat rough ministrations to his needs (and who could blame them entirely?) and the bleak reality of the psychiatric ward which is his only home.

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