THE COMFORTS OF MADNESS by Paul Sayer

THE COMFORTS OF MADNESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A catatonic patient in a mental hospital reflects on his condition in this short, bleak first novel from England. Peter has lost track of time and does not know how long he has been in the hospital, or even his age; when somebody tells him it's his 33rd birthday, he is skeptical. A flashback sketches a grim childhood: feckless, alcoholic father; anxious, withdrawn mother; and disturbed, self-dramatizing sister. The mute Peter attends a special school. Mother and sister disappear, father sickens and dies, and Peter is discovered by a welfare worker--alone with his decomposing dad, though not utterly helpless, for he has learned how to use withdrawal as a defense against the intolerable. At the hospital, his withdrawal is complete: he alternates between bed and wheelchair and is fed through a syringe, but he has achieved the minimal comfort of being left alone--until, that is, he is transferred to a rehabilitation center, whose eager-beaver director, intent on showing that his methods can work even in extreme cases, uses Peter as a guinea pig, forcing him, brutally, to swallow his food and confront his past, though failing to change his condition. ""What demon's secret have you learned?"" he asks in frustration. Eventually Peter is returned to the hospital (""a still life in bone, hair and awful flesh"") and given euthanasia. A decent first effort, but it would take the skills of a Beckett to dramatize successfully a state as inert as Peter's, so it's no surprise that Sayer largely fails here, or that his means of sparking a conflict (the rehab center) is excessively melodramatic.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Doubleday