Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Memoir of Madness

Mar 28, 2015

I've just been reading a terrific book, The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor. By terrific I don't mean enjoyable. Quite the opposite. The book chronicles Taylor's years of psychological distress and collapse into complete mental breakdown. It is very tough to read. Still, terrific.

Taylor is an historian, born and raised in Saskatchewan, who moved to London when she was 21 years old. It is there that the events she describes take place. The book is an account of her psychoanalysis and eventual incarceration in a mental hospital.

"Waking up in a mental hospital isn't something you plan for," she writes. "Now I am in a place that redefines me. Now I am a loony, a nutter, one of those forlorn beings who lurk in the dark recesses of our society. My me has drained out of me; I am on the far side of the moon."

A memoir of her own experience, The Last Asylum is also a condensed history of the asylum -- its promise, its failure -- and a provocative analysis of the deinstitutionalization movement that has occurred not just in England but in Canada and the US as well since the 1980s.

Here is an interesting review by a fellow sufferer. Better still, read the book.