*I received an arc via Bookbridgr in return for an honest review*
Walking Wounded by Sheila Llewellyn
Set in Northfield, an understaffed military psychiatric hospital immediately before the NHS is founded, Walking Wounded is the story of a doctor and his patient: David Reece, a young journalist-to be whose wartime experiences in Burma have come back to haunt him violently; and Daniel Carter, one of the senior psychiatrists, a man who is fighting his own battles as well as those of his patients.
This moving and impressive debut explores violence and how much harm it does to those forced to inflict it in the name of war. It also captures the dilemmas of the medics themselves as they attempt to ‘fix’ their patients, each of whom raise the question of what has happened to their humanity, what can be done to help them, and what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of healing.
If you already follow my blog, you will be aware I am a HUGE ww2 fiction and non-fiction fanatic!
I was intrigued by this novel. Not only its themes of world war two but the treatment of mental health and in particular PTSD brought on by combat stress. The era of 1947 offered little in the way of research and psychiatry was a relatively new field. Especially in terms of, actually achieving any worthwhile outcomes.
The UK psychiatric/psychological sectors were heavily influenced by their American counterparts. This was at a time when America had just ‘discovered’ the lobotomy………
Northfield military psychiatric hospital is the setting of the novel. An asylum on the brink of closure, due to the new formation of the national health service. Dr Daniel Carter is the physician for which we follow throughout the novel. Dr Carter is tormented by a case from his own past and whilst his colleagues relish the chance at the new surgical theories from America. Dr Carter is determined to find another way.
Cpl David Reece is a newly arrived patient. Prior to the war David had some experience in journalism, but this has since been abandoned; due to his psychological trauma of his experiences of Burma during the war. David arrives at the hospital a year after being demobbed, after an altercation only referred to as the ‘incident’.
But the reader becomes well-aware that the ‘incident’ holds a greater relevance to David’s backstory, his experiences in the war and his mental wellbeing. Can Dr Carter unearth the significance of this incident?
The other patients are slowly introduced into the plot. John Bain a deserter arrives stating “Treatment means the blues”. Dr Hunter is a physician very much in favour of the medical model of surgery. Not to mention Freddie, a patient having spent much of his time at the hospital in silence, staring into space.
The patients are locked into the unit, until they’ve been assessed by a doctor. Something that doesn’t sit easy with David.
“I can’t see how it will ever be OK again. Not for any of us loonies and misfits in here” – David Reece
The novel then goes into greater detail of the individual characters backgrounds. Their war stories, relationships and hopes for the future.
Young men whose hopes for the future were already dashed once, on the outbreak of war. How do you piece these men back together again?
‘The Great British soldier was expected to count himself lucky he’d come through it and just get on with it’
The themes of survivor’s guilt and depiction of the war scenes the soldiers have witnessed struck a chord with me.
Are we not still failing our soldiers, in the exact same way now? A true lack of understanding and a lack of a desire to understand, what war does to the mind of the brave!
The novel continues at a slow burning pace. There is no need to rush the stories of the individuals. The veteran’s or the doctor’s, and we learn that some of the doctors are just as complicated as the very men they treat.
The novel debates the theory of ‘compulsory mourning’ treatment administered by Dr Main. A theory some may find horrifying!
The author has done a fantastic amount of research into the mental health care and treatment available in the era. The differing opinions of doctors and the impact on patients.
‘Thou shall not wallow’ Commandment of all military psychiatrists.
There are heartfelt moments, when John Bain explains his alter ego to David. How it made him feel human again. It is then that you realise, that is all these men want, their humanity back.
But can Dr Carter perform, what seems the impossible, before surgical routes are explored instead?
This novel reads like a fictionalised autobiography. The two protagonists are Dr Carter and David Reece. I felt at times this lessened the impact of their stories. I feel the novel would have been better constructed from one central protagonists point of view.
At 261 pages, this is a shorter novel. Yet I felt there was so much more room for added characters or depth of the central characters. I loved the historical accuracy, setting and general plot of the novel. I just failed to fully connect with any of the characters on a deep level. I wanted to root for David’s recovery and John’s freedom, instead the novel played out in a very blunt manner, without much further explanation or emotion.
I would recommend to fans of the world war two genre and anyone with an interest of the mental health treatments of yesteryear. 4*