HOAX Psychosis Blues.
I've been asked to briefly review Ravi Thornton's new graphic novel 'HOAX Psychosis Blues'. This book includes the work of an entire team of illustrators each tackling their own chapters, wrapped around the poetry of Ravi's real-life brother Rob, who suffered from schizophrenia. It was a difficult read- painful in places, hitting very close to home in others given my own experiences with psychosis, mental illness, and more than enough suicide attempts- but ultimately a beautiful and incredibly poignant work that was impossible to leave alone.
In between these 'year' chapters is Rob's poetry, illustrated in turns by different artists, each with a richness well suited to the intricacies of his mind. In Rob's writing, sometimes erratic and dark, laid with frantic repetitions- 'A warning, a warning'- sometimes thick with self-loathing, sometimes spiritual, mystical, and sometimes faintly joyful as he wonders about life beyond death, we see the fracturing of identity that is familiar to anyone who has experienced psychosis. Ravi has been neither gentle nor condemning in tying these strings together, but honest. Her work and artistry here is mostly invisible, curating thoughts and feelings spanning over nine years into the shape of a man. But Ravi's own grief is not ignored in order to inspect Rob's illness; neither is his illness and pain diluted to make a better story. The story is the honest truth, in all its real unpleasantness as well as its strange unreal beauty. I found the inclusion of the line regarding how they found Rob's body after his suicide- "We weren't even allowed to look at you- Fucking... health and safety"- to be particularly brave.
For those of us living in the strange coloured shadows of psychosis, who always seem to skirt death too closely, this book is a message in a bottle reminding us that we are human, we are loved, and that "after all, your karma's not that bad". Ravi doesn't allow the story to end with Rob's death; it continues with the writing of their book, it continues with love. With the degree of mystery, stigma, and fear that shrouds mental illness, it's something special to be understood on the profound level that Ravi writes from here. It's something even more special to behold a message that you have been heard; that if nothing else, says, "Here is a reason to hold on." It's an important, incredible, and accessible book both for those living in the shadows and those who care about us, looking in from the outside.
You can pre order the book through Ravi's publishing house Ziggy's Wish: http://www.ziggyswish.com/products/hoax-psychosis-blues and tickets to the show are available here: http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=791
[Read the original review here.]