The Humber Mouth - Hull Literature Festival 2000 - Thursday 9th November - Sunday 19th November 2000
Critical Eye

Thursday 16th November Review by Brian Iles Hull Truck Theatre
Critical Eye MindReader
Special Commission Publication
An impressive debut by a group of writers brought together in a project contributing to the Humber Mouth for the year 2000.

The theme is that of life itself, presenting the reader with sadness and joy, rejection and acceptance, seasoned with a sprinkling of hope. We are taken on a journey, starting with two middle aged dysfunctional men with much in common, and ending with a wickedly funny poem about passion and young love. There are stops en route in which we observe our characters reliving experiences, allowing us to share the emotions which result.

A wide range of subjects are addressed, with poems and prose about marriage, relationships, hospitalisation, childhood, rejection, dependency, social pressures, loneliness and many others. Also present are the eternal themes of love and death. In addition joy and humour make their appearance, balancing the overall effect of the anthology.

The writers show an ability to carry the reader with them, that is to enable them to identify with problems and the emotions aroused by them. For instance, the despair of broken relationships and the harrowing effects of hospitalisation and subsequent loss of freedom. Memories of parental pressures in childhood and its effect in later years on the developing adult are vividly portrayed. Following on from this they describe the guilt and self recrimination felt at the time, sometimes leading to an inability to create or sustain meaningful relationships.

Highlighted in these pages are the positive and negative effects of medication taken in an effort to balance their mental health with the demands of everyday living, in particular, the addictive aspect of medication when taken over a long period of time, and side effects which can affect concentration and mood.

Sexuality, involving loss or increase of libido are frankly discussed by the authors, as well as the need to love and be loved, and problems of body image and living up to others' expectations. The practicalities of everyday finance crop up; the difficulty of making ends meet. We are given insight into the struggle to balance funds and avoid being 'skint'.

The old adversaries time and death rear their heads, and our preoccupation with these perennial themes is eloquently described; how to fill the seemingly endless days. The writers describe how difficult the act of self motivation is, just getting out of bed in the morning - often it is easier to stay put and avoid the outside world and all its demands. When despair takes hold, the writer describes the darkness and turmoil felt, seeking release in sleep. The depths of this black hole are vividly expressed when death seems to be the only answer to peace of mind.

Contrasts are a valuable aspect of anthologies and all is not doom and gloom. Lighter moments are highlighted among the writers' experiences, creating balance as in life itself. I smiled at the childhood pranks in the nursery and the clumsiness and ecstasy of young love. Also the very funny account of a love affair with a book, bringing a whole new meaning to the saying 'curl up with a good book'. A healthy ability to laugh at oneself and the situations that life throws up are always present.

Many writers will testify to the therapeutic value of the written word. Both for writer and reader, it can become a channel for our inner thoughts and conflicts, and a means of sharing with others the stress and strain of daily living.

Despite significant changes in legislation and attitudes within the Mental Health field, we still experience stigma, intolerance and misunderstanding in the general population. Thankfully the efforts of organisations such as MIND, and that of individuals, are addressing the problems on a daily basis, seeking to educate and promote insight into mental health.

In conclusion, I applaud the contributions made by writers in this remarkable publication. The choice of subject matter, structure, imagery, and overall presentation are of a high standard, conveying to the readers the desperate struggles faced by the writers on a day to day basis. In an accomplished and compelling book, they reveal a part of themselves. This may assist them in the long process of healing.

Brian Iles

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Maggie Hannan is the festival's resident web site critic.
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