An ordinary morning at a train station turns into some something completely different when a man appears on the platform and says he is Jesus. He looks the part too except ….. he is naked!
A warm September morning sees “a sea of commuters” boarding trains to the city. Travellers, seemingly anonymous, only interested in getting to their work. When a stark-naked man steps onto the platform, the other travellers barely notice it, until he addresses a passenger and starts shouting incantations. Before the public know it, the man, Mark, is lying down on the platform and no one has a clue as to what to do. The two British Transport policemen, who happen to be present, have no other choice but to apprehend Mark (they do not know his name but we do!) and bring him to the nearest hospital where he is admitted to the psychiatric ward.
It is already clear to the reader that something is seriously amiss with Mark and, on his admission to hospital, we find he has a predetermined plan. Who in their right mind would scheme to be admitted to a hospital’s psychiatric ward? We follow Mark or Jesus as the nurses call him as he looks and acts like Jesus – at least, the Jesus as portrayed by Robert Powell. The air of mystery, hanging around Mark, also arouses suspicion with the medical staff, especially Staff Nurse Monica Morris. Part of Mark’s plan is that he is to stay mute and that is not as easy as he had thought it would be because he enjoys the banter around him about his appearance. Still, we have no clue what is going on but Mark is happy to have been admitted to the psychiatric ward. Part one of his plan has succeeded. As Mark still remains mute and has not identified himself, the nurses name him ‘Jesus Trainman.’
When he finds out how living on the inside is, confined in the ward, Mark feels sad. But he will not let his ‘plan’ go to pieces. He learns to know the other patients and they seem to take a liking to him, regard him as different. Nurse Monica has a gut feeling that Mark is no ordinary patient – there is something underneath. But why does he, Jesus, not speak whereas he is able to hear perfectly, and understands what he is told? He, on the other hand, scrutinises everything, the organisation of the ward, the medication, the casual dress code of the nursing staff, in short, how such a psychiatric ward functions. Then Dr Sharman, the hospital’s Consulting Psychiatrist, diagnoses Mark and from that moment on, his luck runs out. Big time. A turning point in everything Mark wanted to achieve, even if we do not perceive what Mark’s goal is, we do know that the situation is getting dangerous.
This is a fascinating and insightful thriller about psychiatric treatment and diagnosis. The outset of this psychological novel is based upon true events (if you want to know more read the last paragraph of this review, where I have put some information – however it might give the plot away, hence the position at the bottom of the review). I was totally drawn in and took sides before I knew it! I loved the character Monica whose perceptions and opinions we learn, seeing what occurs through her eyes. It is good that the author shows us a caring nurse – as the outcome of the novel might induce discussions about the NHS which would distract from the topic of this novel.
The novel is well-written and keeps you intrigued as you have to know how this will end although I must say the last paragraph felt detracting and uncharacteristic of the book. Mark is a likeable protagonist (as are his looks!) who somehow gets trapped into his own scheme. I did feel a pang of regret that this book, as a work of fiction, does not address the outset of the true events (sorry, I have to phrase carefully) but instead, comes up with a horrible bully as Psychiatrist. It would have been interesting to read what happens if the Consulting Psychiatrist was a caring professional but then again, it was fascinating to see how the system allows them to go unchallenged. In the end, that is the author’s prerogative and I found this psychological thriller enjoyable and entertaining.
About the Author
In her own words, Alison Morgan is “married to an overgrown child with a beard and too many motorbikes,” and together they live in a corner of a field in North Bedfordshire whilst making the most of a mid-life crisis. The Morgans are determined not to grow old gracefully or to be seen wearing beige and can be found exploring life through a love of live music, anything with an engine, the sea, mountains, rugby, proper pubs and fascinating people. Alison Morgan has worked for the NHS for nearly thirty years, twenty of those within mental health services, at the front line, where she eventually became the manager of a countywide community service for people experiencing their first episode of psychosis. Much to her frustration, her heart decided to develop an electrical fault and her career temporarily juddered to a halt.
Not one for thumb twiddling, she took up position in front of a computer with a plan to write a set of clinical guidelines for assessment of psychosis, but instead, a story, which had been lurking in her mind for several years, came tumbling out. With her health steadily improving thanks to the staff at Papworth Hospital, Alison hopes to return to nursing part-time but is determined to keep writing fiction. Her debut novel A Justifiable Madness is inspired by her life and career as a psychiatric nurse, and her fascination with the extremes of human behaviour. Her second novel, Divine Poison, also published by Bloodhound books is due for release in January 2018.
The Rosenhan Experiment
* SPOILER ALERT | ADDITIONAL INFORMATION *
The Rosenhan Experiment (developed by Stanford University Professor and Psychologist David Rosenhan in the 1970s) was designed to examine the validity of psychiatric diagnosis by sending in ‘pseudopatients’ – people who had never had symptoms of serious mental disorder – who would have to fake a psychiatric condition, not too severe, and, once admitted into a psychiatric ward, had to act ‘normal’ again. The outcome of the experiment was shocking and many pseudopatients were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder after having been confined for substantial periods of time. But there is more: the second part of this research involved informing the hospital staff of the conducted research and telling them one or more pseudopatients would attempt to be admitted to their hospital over an ensuing three-month period. As a result of that information, many patients were subsequently identified as likely pseudopatients whereas, in reality, no pseudopatient had been sent. In discussing the Rosenhan Experiment, most people tend to ignore the fact, that the experience of the pseudopatients themselves was also a part of the experiment.
The outcome? ‘ A psychiatric diagnosis is more a function of the situation in which the observer finds a patient and reveals little about a patient themselves’, according to Professor Rosenhan, who adds “it is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals.“