3 Jan 2011

Review: "Poppy Shakespeare" - To be or to go crazy

How do you know if you are crazy? Now that is a good question. When I studied psychology, one of the topics that we often discussed was the difference between clients understanding their own disorders and clients who had no understanding of the fact that their experience of the world differed from the general understanding in society. A topic that I find really really interesting and which plays quite a big part in the novel "Poppy Shakespeare" by Clare Allan.

The setting is quite a dramatic one, a psychiatric hospital, Abaddon, in North London, where a bunch of day-patients spend five days a week doing as little as possible. They all have a range of diagnosis and they are all very aware of how to use these to get as much as possible out of the system. Their own common goal is to stay at status quo for as long as possible - i.e. not getting too well so that they can no longer qualify for fulltime treatment but not getting so bad that they are sectioned. A fine line between insanity and normality and one that calls for creativeness, especially around assessment time.

Then something happens to disrupt the quiet routines of the Abaddon common room. A new patient is admitted into the system - a young, pretty, cool woman in miniskirt and stiletto heels. A woman named Poppy Shakespeare who insists that she is not crazy and does not belong in the psychiatric system. The narrator, N, who has lived her whole life as a dribbler - someone dribbling the psychiatric system - is fascinated by Poppy and the two women become friends. Therefore, N cannot say no when Poppy asks for her help in getting out. However, cheating a system that is a jungle of rules and where the doctors hold the ultimate power is by no means easy. So are N and Poppy crazy or cunning enough to do just that?

This book had been laying on my shelf for a year but something told me that now the time was right for reading it. And I am glad I did because this is a really good story. I loved the idea of the novel being set in an almost dystopian psychiatric environment and I loved the narrator N. Her grip on reality and her stories are not always true, sometimes it takes a little bit to understand what is right and what is N's imagination. Her voice, however, rings clear as a bell. She speaks a rough London English where have is replaced by of - i.e. She should of had it - and reading it, you can almost hear N tell the story.

Read it if you need something different, something full of twists and turns that will keep you turning pages!

To read more about the author's own thoughts about "Poppy Shakespeare", please go to this link: http://www.clareallan.co.uk/default.asp?sec=2&sec2=1&sec3=2


  1. My sister has read this book and enjoyed it. There was a TV adaptation of it over here (UK) either last Christmas or the one before, you might be able to find it on the internet somewhere?

  2. Cool, I will definitely check out the adaption! Thanks for letting me know Sam :-)

  3. I saw the programm when it was on ,I like sound of the book and really love the wonderful cover

  4. Stu, I agree, love the cover. It is really cool!

  5. Great review Willa. I really want to read this one. I've had it on my shelf for a while but don't know why I haven't picked it up. Will try!