In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.
Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.
As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.
Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.
A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?
In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.
My own experience of mental illness is what attracted me to reading Matilda Windsor is Coming Home. In 1938 my Jewish mother and grandmother escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. Unable to return to their hometown of Bucharest, they made their way to England and settled here in Cheltenham, where I still live. Over her adult life, my mother spent three spells in psychiatric hospitals – the first in the 1950s following the death of my older sister at 17 months and then the birth of my brother and myself. This resulted in a lobotomy. The second in 1973 after her mother died and the third in 1989/90, the same time as when we meet Matty.
I mention this because I can relate to Matty’s treatment. For my mother, I was told that her ‘quality of life’ could be improved by her learning to make a cup of tea and a ham sandwich, thus allowing her to live more successfully in her own flat. This is similar to Matty’s rehabilitation from being institutionalised. What I couldn’t explain, as they would think us both frightful snobs, was that she had had servants in Romania and had no intention of making her own sandwiches. In fact she didn’t even know how to boil the kettle or wished to. When Matty talks about the butler, maids and her mother marrying a prince I can almost hear my mother’s voice (though not the prince part).
None of this has anything to do with my review, I just wanted to explain why this book means so much to me. We love Matty because she is such a lovable character. As the story unfolds we discover more and more about her childhood, the death of her father, her mother’s death in childbirth and her relationship with her stepfather, George. The more we learn, the more shocking it becomes.
But let’s look at the story in 1990. Janice with her pink hair and harlequin trousers who Matty dubs ‘circus girl’ has split from her boyfriend and takes her first proper job as a social worker in Cumbria. The residents of the ‘asylum’ are being assessed as to who can be released back into society and given their own flat in a new development on the site of the old baby clinic. Janice is drawn to Matty, who has been locked up for 50 years. Her ‘crime’ it appears, was getting pregnant while unwed at the age of 20. Following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she is put away for the rest of her life. Janice wants to make a difference by showing everyone that Matty should finally be released, but will she cope?
Henry, who works for the council but has been downgraded because he refuses to learn how to use a computer (try this in 2021 Henry), lives next door to the proposed flats where the released patients will reside. Henry has spent his life waiting for his sister Tilly to return. Following the death of his mother in childbirth, Tilly, aged thirteen, single-handedly raised him from a baby, until she mysteriously went away. Henry’s married ‘lover’ Irene is fed up of waiting for Henry to give up his obsession with his sister.
In the meantime, the Residents Association is opposing the psychiatric patients being moved into sheltered housing in the community. They don’t want ‘lunatics’ living next door. Henry is on the committee. I love this conversation.
‘How about Sheepwash Residents against Psychiatric Invasion?’ Susanna offered.
Zoe nodded. ‘SRAPI for short.’
Oh, yes,’ said Ursula, ‘what’s it called when the initials form a word? Like NATO?’
‘An anachronism,’ said Susanna.
‘An acronym,’ said Henry, but nobody heard.
Oh Henry! What an anachronism you are! Oh the irony!
The story unfolds slowly and at times is so frustrating as the reader is always one step ahead. I loved reading about Matty, Janice and Henry and I can’t wait for the sequel.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.
Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.
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Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/1913117057/