Today’s team review is from Frank.
Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/
Frank has been reading Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin
Ms Goodwin’s previous book, which I also reviewed for Rosie Amber, dealt with the issue of gender transition. The author’s background is as a practising psychologist. Stolen Summers is an exploration of life for inmates in mental institutions in England during the middle of the twentieth century. It is set in Northern England with chapters alternating between 1939 and 1964. This enables her to highlight differences in attitudes towards the mentally ill over the quarter century.
The central protagonists, Matty and Doris, are beautifully realised. Matty is middle class. She has had elocution lessons. Unfortunately her education has taught her nothing about how to survive in the world outside her insular community. Pregnant at 19 she has brought shame to her family. After the child is born in a home run by nuns and adopted, she is taken to an institution called Ghyllside. There she yearns for family life and is anxious about the welfare of her beloved six-year-old brother. Most of the other inmates seem hostile.
Doris, in particular, coming from a very different background, is scornful of the posh girl with her airs and graces. But she has been incarcerated in Ghyllside for long enough to become familiar with the routines and the pecadilloes of the staff. She takes Matty under her wing and the pair become firm friends.
The book follows their lives in Ghyllside, the small pleasures they enjoy, like the weekly dance, and the brutality of the ‘treatment’ to which inmates are subjected whenever they stray from the tightly controlled regime during the war years.
We also meet an Afro-Caribbean veteran of the first world war and learn of the racist violence such men encountered in the aftermath of that conflict.
What happens when, in 1964, the two friends are allowed out to attend a circus, is life changing for Matty.
Young women who were routinely incarcerated merely for having become pregnant, whatever the circumstance, had no opportunity to gain experience of real life. Both Matty and Doris are as naive in 1964 as they were in 1939, although throughout the book Doris has a better grasp on reality. But the world has changed beyond recognition, as has the way mental patients are treated by society.
My only problem with this book is that it seems too short. I would like to have seen more about the circumstances in which Matty became pregnant and her emotional reaction to them. Towards the end there are chapters that take us forward by another 25 years, to 1989, when Tilly is 70 and society’s view of women like her has changed yet again. It would have been good to have seen more of this part of her story. The book ends with taster chapters from the sequel which suggest it will provide that. I can’t wait to read it.
All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?
In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.
Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?
The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.