By S.J. Bradley
Published by Dead Ink Books
Available as a paperback and also as an ebook
'Brick Mother' is a term first used by psychotherapist Henri Rey to describe Victorian hospitals. The walls were like the arms of a mother, keeping the patients within safe. Bradley explores the way that this tenderness can be caring and nurturing but also the way it can suffocate in her debut novel, Brick Mother.
Brick Mother tells the story of two women, Neriste, an art therapist and Donna, a support worker, who both work at a secure psychiatric unit, on the edge of a big fictional town in Yorkshire. The unit is understaffed, missing direction and battling with funding and budgets. Employees and patients are trapped - doors are kept locked, visitors are rare and every day objects like pens are considered weapons. Paranoia seeps in through the cracks.
Both women are disillusioned by their jobs - Neriste is trapped in her port-a-cabin, doing her art therapy with limited resources, and going home exhausted. While Donna is struggling to make enough money to keep the roof over herself and her son. Bradley creates two very different characters who on the surface are poles apart - Neriste has a more middle class upbringing having gone to university, while Donna lives in a council estate, the father of her child is absent from their lives, her money from working at the hospital barely feeds them. However, under the surface they are both struggling to find a place in society - both are powerless in their jobs to influence any management decisions with regards to patients, both are trapped by the needs of the hospital pulling them away from their family life. Both are looking to improve their lives, looking to escape the claustrophobic grip and stagnation of the hospital but are both drawn back to its imposing presence as they need their jobs to enable them to survive.
The way Bradley builds up suspense to run along side the mundane lives of these women and the hospital creates a fantastic build-up of tension. Bradley can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and almost into the sinister - pens, an innocent piece of stationery is now a weapon. Both Characters will be manipulated either by the system or by the guilt that bothers both of them.
Bradley successfully explores the complexity of themes, considering the issues that surround mental health care in the UK from both a patient and carer perspective with regards to funding, staffing and the boundaries between the appearance of getting better and actually being fit enough to leave the hospital. These themes, full of insight and detail, feed nicely into the plot of Brick Mother - the lives of Neriste and Donna both start to unravel as they both drawn to Nathan, a patient with a dark past. They must make tough decisions - are they the vulnerable ones or is it the patient?
Brick Mother is a thought-provoking social-realism novel and it will stay with you many weeks after finishing the last chapter. Bradley has written a seriously good novel and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.
Brick Mother is available now from your favourite book retailer.
I was kindly sent a copy by the author.