...magnificently unsettling ... His interest isn’t merely in describing this empathy but evoking it, slightly coercively, from the reader (there’s an annoying yet undeniably powerful twist in this tale that I’m trying to sidestep) ... Benjamin’s narrative creeps along the borders of his case studies. His patients’ suffering recalls his own ... He reels off superbly sympathetic statements — 'patients are often our imagined others' — with the kind of professional tenderness worthy of Oliver Sacks. He is no Sacks. Something stranger is afoot ... The language suddenly changes, turns jagged and gnomic ... This book about madness becomes itself the chronicle of a shattering breakdown ... Certain sections are inevitably difficult to follow ... Be advised: You’ll need a mighty tolerance for that Laingian mythopoeic perspective of mental illness to make it through this maze. But succeed and its conclusion feels like a benediction.
... after just a few pages of dazzling writing, this book’s form changes, and it begins to seem not really a set of case notes after all, more the mischievous jottings of a cartographer, mapping the neural connections of his own disturbing thoughts ... full of the provocative reflections of a discontented, challenging mind ... In this book, the medical curtain is pulled back and our stand-in for the avuncular Sacks is revealed to be a bluffing circus ringmaster with a megaphone ... Insanity has often been depicted in literature as a descent – a one-way ticket to a mental underground. But in considering the subject while he is himself in the midst of madness, honestly portraying and displaying it with great humour and skill, Benjamin achieves a miraculous feat of psychiatric mountaineering. Among his achievements is to write a book that itself performs the encroachment of mental ill-health, as it skips between transparency and a rising mania-fuelled obfuscation. The author still manages to be a reliable witness – just.
The eight lines that preface Let Me Not Be Mad slice straight to the singed, fast-beating heart of a mental-health memoir like no other ... Benjamin is kinetic company, his rangy intelligence matched with a fondness for rarefied locution (he can never resist a 'lickerish' mouth) and indelible images ... The book’s second half fuses an alarming, increasingly claustrophobic psychodrama with irresistibly sharp cultural commentary that makes even greying bugbears such as listicles and the misuse of the word 'literally' seem fresh ... this is a text that constantly interrogates the very act of narrativisation, together with its limitations and the tricks that our minds play on us with it ... a wild, genre-defying wake-up call of a book.
... [a] strange and powerful book, poised between fiction and memoir, and on that wavering line where the neurological and the psychological intersect ... this is not a simple narrative of striking cases written by a far-seeing practitioner. It’s a turbo-charged race. Language darts and hurtles through a landscape of unyielding and punitive conditions. Transference may ever be in play for the professional mind doctor ... [Benjamin's] book is like a meeting of Oliver Sacks and Hunter S Thompson ... What stood out for me in a book that veers between the expressive and the therapeutic, were the insights into the increasingly impoverished NHS – the waiting rooms, the bare clinical spaces, the cuts, the strain on staff and medics struggling to serve extremely difficult patients. Breakdown is not only a category of the inner world.
... relies more on literary and cultural references than on clinical ones ... points would be stronger if he relied less on personal anecdote and more on professional expertise. Some moments in the book are moving...Other vignettes fall flat. Moreover Mr. Benjamin’s slippery method proves problematic ... The effect of the best medical memoirs, like those of Sacks, is to make idiosyncratic cases seem emblematic of wider maladies. In Let Me Not Be Mad, the focus is on a single, highly subjective and extreme experience. Rather than plumbing the depths of an 'unravelling mind', it seems instead to skim the surface.
Benjamin’s narrative is erudite, at times lofty, and almost always on the edge of painful as he illuminates his fraught world ... This unique memoir will likely appeal to fans of personal medical writing and narratives.
As for Benjamin’s self-exposure, it’s a striptease. His maddening, saddening, slow-burn belter of a book at first seems to be a series of case studies, an episodic but more or less conventional memoir of his career ... The slippery nature of the truth is one of his favoured themes: the idea not just that truth is hard to pin down, but that it may not exist in the way you suppose. It’s one thing to make this argument, another to embody it in your prose — actually far harder, given the linear nature of language. Benjamin does both ... a first chapter that’s so overwritten as to be almost unendurable .. as the chapters pass, the author finds his stride. He stops sprinting and waving his arms. And his facility for language, pin-sharp percipience, and sensitivity to micro-shifts in moods, become clear ... Although it achieves an accumulative fascination, his literary striptease never dares full nudity.