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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Lighted Rooms

by Mason, Richard

on 05/04/2010

Price: £7.99

Published: May 2009

Format: Paperback

No Pages: 528 pages


ISBN-13: 9780753826249

Category: Fiction

There are many novels that eloquently describe the experience of mental illness. This is one of them. However it is much more than that. It is also a complex novel with many sub plots. Richard Mason’s great grandmother spent her childhood in a British concentration camp during the Anglo-Boer war and several members of her family died in captivity. The novel jumps between the present day and the past when the suffering of the civilian population at the time of the war are brought to light through the discovery of a journal.

However there are two main interests for doctors. The first raises the issue of the difficult decisions relatives have to make when they decide whether to put their elderly loved ones into a nursing home. The second relates to the experience of the elderly person herself (Joan) who gradually develops Lewy Body Dementia. We see this experience through Joan’s eyes including her feelings of anger and submission as she tries to gain comfort from her internal life, which then becomes external in the form of hallucinations, while she investigates her family’s past with the help of a teenage boy who befriends her. Joan gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagination. We also see the experience from the point of view of her daughter Eloise, who has a failed marriage behind her and is the busy manager of a hedge fund that is running into major difficulties through an ill advised investment she has made.

But despite all this misfortune, this is a good novel to read and it is worth making the effort after the rather slow and complex start.

The title comes from a wonderful description of old age by Philip Larkin:

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting.

There is hope at the end but I do not want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book by giving away what happens. There is one rather nagging inaccuracy when Joan’s GP treats her with Clozapine without any involvement from secondary services and without any blood tests. The businesslike and rather sinister nurse, Sister Karen, administers the medication to Joan without her consent or knowledge. But real life can be too complicated for plot fluency.

A recommended read or all doctors, medical students and care workers who look after the elderly.

Dr. Bob Adams


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