Inspired by Dr. A. K. Benjamin's years working as a clinical neuropsychologist at a London hospital, this multilayered narrative interweaves Benjamin's own sometimes shocking personal experiences with those of his mentally disordered patients.
...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.