Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan

I really like listening to audiobooks. There's something comforting about them, maybe because it takes me back to being a nipper when my mum would read a book to me at bedtime (I can remember enjoying the "Ant and Bee" books, they have wonderfully naive childlike illustrations!), and you can just get on with whatever, washing dishes or more often, sewing or drawing while your mind can wander through the chapters.
A recent listen was Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan, read by Clare Corbet. I went and missed Channel 4's dramatization of the book, starring the wonderful Anna Maxwell-Martin (Bleak House, Becoming Jane). So when I saw this staring out at me from the shelves of Sheffield Central Library, I whisked it away to listen to, and i'm so glad I did!
The story is of two day patients, Poppy of the title who is dragged kicking and swearing into the Dorothy Fish psychiatric hospital, protesting that she is entirely sane; and the woman who befriends her who is simply and mysteriously known as 'N', who doesn't see a life beyond the Dorothy Fish. I did think it would be a bit harrowing, as it's a story about mental illness. But I was so wrong! It's very funny and entertaining, owing to the deadpan humour of 'N'. Through N's eyes we see Poppy gradually change from the smartly-dressed and feisty woman who didn't want to be taken into the hospital, to a tragic character who eventually falls apart.
Clare Corbet is a wonderful reader with a good repertoire of different voices which adds dimension to all the strange and colourful characters of such a bizarre place. I found the story very surreal and with not a little satire, when you hear about the government department called MAD (Ministry for the Advancement of the Deranged) and the layers of ridiculous bureaucracy which means ill people are discharged to commit suicide, while the sane and well Poppy has to fight for her freedom.
This audiobook is a great listen, and you'd be MAD not to!

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