Ravi Thornton, Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Rian Hughes, Julian Hanshaw, Karrie Fransman, Mark Stafford, Hannah
Berry, Rhiana Jade, Ian Jones, Leonardo M. Giron, Rozi Hathaway
I could tell you it follows Rob as he struggles with mental illness, from the worrying signs of something being wrong but Ravi and others not being sure what it is, through diagnosis, treatments, the alternating tides of recovery and the troughs of mental anguish, and how it affects him, his family, everyone around him. And that would be a true statement, as far as it goes, of what we read here, but as I indicated, this is not a simple, linear narrative, it’s more like a series of experiences, different chapters with different artists adding to the kaliedoscope sensation offering different perspectives into Rob’s mental state and how he is seeing the world, sometimes with pleasure or hope, sometimes with dreadful, heart-rending anguish.
Some segments are like being on the ocean at night, a dark mirror, seemingly calm, reflecting silvery moonlight, beautiful – but you don’t know what lies under that dark mirror. There are depths, deep, lightless, with currents that can grab us, move us, we swim but those currents will carry us anyway, sometimes to wash up upon golden sands, other times to dash us on rocks between our own personal Scylla and Charybdis and it feels like we are at their mercy, and, just as horrific, our loved ones around us desperate to help, to soothe and feeling helpless, seeing us struggle, trying, oh trying so hard to help and despairing that it’s never enough. I’m sure those are familiar sensations and feelings to anyone who has dealt with mental health problems (or indeed serious physical health problems) or tried to take care of someone enduring them. In one of the more traditionally linear segments Rob tells her she can’t understand, can’t imagine. I can a little, she tells him. No, you can’t he replies. That horrible lurching sensation, you so desperately want to reach out, to be their strength and help them up, and you can’t and no matter how you try you don’t really know what they are going through, because you are not them and sometimes all the love and best intentions in the world won’t make any difference. Doesn’t mean we stop trying though. How could we?
The individual sections illustrated by different artists are often highly symbolic, drawing, literally, on the imagery of Rob’s own poetry. Between the art and the verse we’re in the world of symbols and metaphors as much as words (and we should never forget even then that words are metaphors themselves). In my years as a bookseller I’ve often heard people – shamefully including other booksellers – say “I don’t like poetry.” As if you can dismiss a vast and endlessly variable form of writing. Personally I’ve always loved poetry; much as I adore a beautifully crafted paragraph of prose, there are some things which verse is simply superior for articulating, and cries from the heart and soul are among those.
Good poetry doesn’t simply deal with the logic and structure of the narrative prose, it’s like music, it darts and moves and touches and stimulates, eliciting emotional responses and evoking imagery in the reader’s mind. To me that means every single person who reads these pages will form different takes on them, and that’s as it should be – this is a deeply, intensely personal work, both Rob’s beautiful, heart-felt poetry and Ravi’s crafting of her beloved brother’s words into a new artistic form, and of course it will stimulate different imagery and emotions in the minds and hearts of each reader. For instance, for me Mark Stafford’s art reminded me very much of Pink Floyd’s The Wall (the animation and the music and the film) and that feeling of loss of control, of others running your life, ostensibly for your own good and yet it felt like powerlessness and being dominated, unwillingly.
Hoax, Psychosis Blue is available to order from Ravi via her Ziggy’s Wish site, set up for books that can support charities, while the stage production of Hoax, My Lonely Heart is showing from 4th to 7th June 2014, at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
[See the original review on the Forbidden Planet website.]