Reviews: Tim Watson-Munro – Dancing with Demons

Dancing with Demons
Tim Watson-Munro

Tim became a psychologist in a high security prison early in his career. This set him up well in order to become a renowned psychological criminal profiler. But a job with high visibility leads to a lot of stress, and the associated mental health and addiction problems that eventually caused Tim to fall off the rails – and write this memoir.

It’s scary that a huge number of the people who are criminals stored in prison actually have mental health problems. If those problems could have been caught earlier they probably wouldn’t have the drug habit or the addiction that led to them being put in jail in the first place!

I find it very interesting that the author refers to the jail and spells it in the American form which is JAIL not GAOL. Personally, I always thought this was a stupid way of spelling it! Spell it how it sounds, there ain’t no ‘g’ in there. It’s not a memoir for everyone. It does tackle the author’s drug problem / past drug problem quite in depth which some people could find uncomfortable to read.

This offers a quite an insight into different well-known criminal minds that although Tim has said he hasn’t revealed anything that is not publically available, is very interesting. I think that people who are more familiar with the criminal underworld would probably get even more out of it than I did. I really try to avoid following the news…

I enjoyed it because I’m interested in mental illness. I’m actually feeling quite inspired to go and look at some other statistics in the area for how many mental health problems present in this population. Of course this book documents a time when our jails were very rough and you would hope that they’ve changed by now. The novel allows the reader to look along through the years to an extent, providing some interesting information about the early years of the rehabilitation program.

It is really, really well documented that crims can’t adapt back to society. The minute that you bring them back into society, they can’t deal with freedom and usually find themselves reoffending because they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s difficult to find jobs, it’s possible they no longer have any family left, and then only the option to survive is to go back to crime. Jail ultimately is more of a cost to the community than the criminals.

The problem is that the majority of people think that locking crims up actually solves the problem. But there are always more people to offend and it’s also well-documented that people have received training in jail from more senior criminals to commit worse crimes. There are exceptions to that of course, including chart molesters & serious people that are actually psychopaths. You can read about a fictional psychopath in Breaking Butterflies.

Pan Macmillan | 27th June 2017 | AU $34.99 | paperback

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Review: Lily Bailey – Because We Are Bad

Because We Are Bad
Lily Bailey

Lily’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was out of hand from nearly in her childhood. Without a point of reference, she thought that everyone thought this way. Eventually, OCD was ruling her life to the extent that she couldn’t function. A series of doctors, medications and therapy later, Lily can live an almost normal life.

Anything that could go wrong? She was going to be responsible for it. Anything that did go wrong? She had cursed the person and made it happen. Only by using rituals could Lily overcome some of her limitations, and it was a hard struggle the whole way along.

Dr Finch makes a huge impact on Lily’s life, and this relationship that Lily explores in depth in this novel shows the complexities of patient-doctor interactions. A good doctor can bring patients a long step forward, and bad ones can set patients’ progress back by many years and even prevent them from seeking help.

This memoir is less ‘meaty’ than The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, but still a good addition to someone’s library who has an interest in OCD and how it can manifest in a variety of ways. It might be a ‘read once and pass it on book’, but it’s well worth that read. If it was a fiction novel, I’d give it 4 stars.

Allen & Unwin | 10th May 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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Review: Julie Randall – Patient 71

Patient 71
Julie Randall

Julie Randall went from being a partying 50 year old to having major surgery to remove a tumour from her brain in less than a month. Following that, Julie had to fight to get the treatment she needed in order to survive and be with her kids – whether she’s in Australia or not.

So it’s a reasonable enough memoir but not exactly what I was hoping for. As long-time readers will know, I’m a scientist by training and so I was hoping for more juicy details about everything – the science behind the new treatment, the ‘magic pill’ that might have cured everything, what’s it’s really like to be a scientific guinea pig. Instead, I got a bit of a repetitive heartthrob tale that I didn’t really feel any inclination to keep reading. Instead I would have thought that “breakfast, school run, chemo” is actually a more relatable story even if that one doesn’t actually have a happy ending so to speak. Cancer is hard.

I appreciate that the author is a real person, with real problems, and I would hate to read a negative review of a novel I had probably put a lot of time into crafting. But honestly, some of the fault must also lie with the publishers. This book could have benefited from some significant editorial guidance. There’s a lot of inconsistent tenses and it would have been really useful to define who is alive/dead earlier in the novel. Additionally, I know the author actually wrote letters to her dead mother while undergoing treatment, but I actually found the letters quite distracting and not actually very useful.

The author makes it sound like this wonder drug is a complete cure but at any time, as far as I can see, the cancer could return. She seems to say that she has monthly treatments on a maintenance dosage. I really hope she’s making the most of life that she has left, because knowing about drugs and cancer, they always have the capacity to surprise you.

I’d also like to complain about the repetitiveness of Julie’s little chant about ‘My body is healthy, my organs are healthy’. I’m all for mindfulness and appreciating what you have, and supporting your body mentally, but arg! it just was very irritating for me. There is some useful things to take from this because it promotes still having a healthy lifestyle and remaining active as much you, but also really pushing for the help that you need.

Thankfully no need to provide stars for this one. Look elsewhere for an Australian cancer memoir.

Hachette Australia | 27th June 2017| AU$32.99 | paperback

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Review: Bree Record – The Road to Transition

The Road to Transition
Bree Record

Sarah was destroyed by Steven, now Bree is ready to take her rightful place in the world. This novel chronicles the 40 days before her surgery, interspersed with her most distressing memories of the last 55 years of her life. This is the transition of everything.

I love the way that the blurb labels this as a ‘gender confirmation surgery’. It’s not a reassignment surgery, which implies that there is something weird about it. I think it is very difficult to properly convey the feeling of both relief and confusion when someone takes their identified form. I would really like this novel to have a bit more after the form change, but it’s limited in pages to explore everything.

While the imagery was beautiful, I needed more substance. I could have had more of everything, particularly more about Bree’s relationship with her Wife. When a transition takes place, it often rips apart families, particularly as people who never thought they were gay suddenly find themselves with a same-sex partner. I find that that usually raises a really interesting question.

I read this one night that I was suffering insomnia. It kept my attention because I couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t that great. However, this was so so much better than when Adam became Audrey. That’s written from the perspective of the partner of the transitioning person, and it’s absolutely horrible. I can’t warn people away from it enough. This is a good book in comparison.

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Review: Henry Marsh – Admissions

Admissions
Henry Marsh

Dr. Henry Marsh was a Political Studies student before wagging college for a year. Eventually, he ended up studying medicine and becoming a celebrated neurosurgeon. This novel is a memoir of his experiences in remote hospitals in places such as Nepal and Pakistan, where he offers his services as surgeon and teacher to those in need.

I honestly expected more juicy stories and less reflection, but perhaps that was a hallmark of this being his second novel – perhaps they were all exhausted by his first novel, ‘Do No Harm’. For me then, there was too much memoir and reflection on aging rather than substance about the joys and upsets of being a neuroscientist. I can accept a certain level of introspection, but I’m not certain what regular readers would pull from this novel.

Although I enjoyed the scientific discussion because I’m a scientist and know something about the brain’s morphology, it would have been very useful to have diagrams of what the incisions and brain areas looked like. Nothing too gastly, I’m certain it would be difficult to get permissions to print images of patients, but just dry diagrams could have been useful.

The brief discussions about how Henry could apply his knowledge to neuroscience about how personality probably does [not] exist after death could not save the novel for me. Neither could the discussions on his renovation project in his retirement. Additionally, I wasn’t actually sure what family he had left, which made me wonder at his sanity! Also, he is obsessed with getting dementia which derails a lot of the chapters.

If you are looking for more ways of living mindfully, shaped by what others dying has done so far (The Five Invitations) or are looking for a provocative discussion of the implications of a ‘Good Death’ (The Easy Way Out), this is not the novel for you. It wasn’t really the novel for me, but others might enjoy it. Thankfully it is non-fiction, so I don’t have to assign a star rating to something I didn’t particularly enjoy.

Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback

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Review: Maude Julien – The Only Girl in the World

The Only Girl in the World
Maude Julien

Maude’s mother was chosen when she was six years old to give birth to blonde Maude and train Maude as superior being – at Maude’s father’s request. Maude is forced to endure torture in the basement, sitting in the dark for hours with rats running past her feet, and to spend hours practicing the piano and accordion.

I actually expected this novel to be darker than what it was. Reading the blurb made me think that Maude was inexplicably (physically) tortured in horrific ways. That’s not to say she wasn’t – but it was more psychological torture, which to an extent can be much harder to recover from. This is a success story though, as Maude has gone on to be a ‘doctor of the mind’ and assists other victims of trauma and abuse.

I was right there with Maude from the very beginning, and the prose was written in such a way that it wasn’t dry or stilted. In fact, if you didn’t tell someone it was a memoir, I’m pretty sure they would just think it was some horrific form of fiction. There is a climax of sorts, which fits in with a fiction novel, but the outcomes of the novel were much more real. I don’t think I am expressing myself adequately here, but trust me, it is written flawlessly.

As this is a memoir I’m not giving it any stars. But it is a fantastic memoir that I recommend highly. It’s a unique survivorship novel of what cults can do to children, but how the resilience of children can create positive outcomes.

Text Publishing | 1st May 2017 | AU$32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson – Island Nurses

Island Nurses
Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson

Leonie and Adele worked as the primary health care providers on remote Great Barrier Island before any of the mod-cons were available such as phones and consistent electricity. Only 100km from the mainland, the government didn’t realise the isolation and trials for the nurses in this wild place and so these stories are how the nurses could negotiate the realities of isolated life.

While the stories were quite entertaining and there was plenty of variety, something about the tone of the novel made it feel slightly awkward to read. Ah yes. Is it in present tense? My literature interpretation is a bit rusty. Anyway, I’m sure it was written in this manner to give a sense of presence and urgency to the life situations, however it just made it awkward for me to read.

What I appreciated was the wide range of situations that were covered in the novel. The other recent nursing novel I read, Aussie Midwives, focussed on the experiences of different midwives, so this had an entirely different content to it. Less internal thoughts, more events!

Something that still carries stigma and is rarely discussed is that many women suffer from miscarriages for no obvious reason. Both Leonie and Adele want to have children, but it will be hell for one of them. While perhaps not a key part of being a remote nurse, it is a fact of life that dealing with births is a regular occurrence, no matter how painful it might be at the time.

This was another memoir I found to be lacking in substance, but it was certainly more enjoyable than Admissions. This had a greater number of anecdotes that energised me and that I couldn’t wait to relate to others. Additionally, I have a nurse in my family who I knew would appreciate the novel so it won’t go to waste!

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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