House of Bread
South London, the summer of '89. Dan's been sectioned and he's trying to work out why. Life in Woodland Park Hospital is no picnic, but it does have its moments.
…He was plugged into the main source, lit up. He could live on light. He could feel it, taste its liquid gold running through his veins. It was love, love… Love that he couldn’t see. Or touch. That could never be taken away… What was going on?
Cover image: Detail of 'Bedlam Square' by Roland Jarvis
‘I read it practically at one sitting … House of Bread is very impressive. Vivid, painful and completely engrossing.’
‘This is an extremely well written, intelligent, sharp, funny, sad and philosophical novel. The setting is extremely well handled. Dan is sectioned and the plot cleverly builds around what took place before he was sectioned and how this is affecting his life and the life of his friends and family. He’s got ‘clinical happiness’ and I’ve not seen a better descriptive fictional account of this disorder. Contemporary fiction tends to be aimed at the twenty/thirty-something market, but this novel would be bought by readers of all ages. The book is both challenging and readable – a skill which not all writers possess.’
‘This is a brilliant book in all respects. His incomprehension at his predicament, being detained under the mental health act, forms the initial part of the narrative. Gradually we learn the events that lead to Dan’s incarceration, on the way discovering how quickly one becomes a non-person when caught up in the mental health system. Friends one has had all one’s life find nothing to say when faced with observing discomfort. Fellow patients become closer than family. The advantages of psychiatric medication are quickly shown to be far outweighed by the appalling side effects – the ‘Largactil shuffle’ and the drooling rigidity that accompanies it. Dan eventually learns almost by accident that he is a manic-depressive and that his colour and number (7) filled world of complete invulnerability is paralleled by the depths of despair and utter hopelessness of suicidal depression. That he survives his stay and finds genuineness and indeed love in the process must fill the reader with hope. This book is a must for anyone with either a passion for a good read or an interest in mental health. The description of the roller coaster highs and lows of manic depression is perfect in every detail and challenges us on every page. A must for professionals and those it affects personally.’
‘I have just finished reading House of Bread and found it to be an entertaining and moving insight not only into mental illness but also into the service user experience. I considered myself to be an enlightened and empowering nurse, but this book has shown me that, at times, I have been far from that. I believe that everybody working in the mental health field should read this, and I will be recommending it to many colleagues.’
‘I found the book both passionate and poignant; I thought the description of mania and slow realisation/sense of alienation from the outside world was brilliantly portrayed and one of the bits that really moved me was his phone calls when the truth of his abandoned and isolated status from previous friends and associates came to life.’
‘I very much enjoyed House of Bread. It is a fascinating account of what goes on in such a hospital. I found it hard to put the book down.’
‘I enjoyed Amanda Nicol’s book enormously. I was intrigued by the plot, which reveals itself slowly and I was invigorated by the pace. I think more people would enjoy this story if they could see how sensibly and humorously she has treated the subject. Speech is beautifully recorded. I found the book hard to put down.’
‘I loved this book. It tells us about the many who are having a very difficult time in their lives and brings ‘mental illness’ into a humane context so that we can identify with the characters and feel love and sympathy. To make it seem not the secret terrible shame is a great achievement. I was brought up with mental illness, my aunt didn’t speak after a breakdown when she was about 18 and she spent the rest of her life as a sort of shell of a person, it was heartbreaking for my family especially my grandmother. We never knew when she would have a turn. Thank you, Amanda, for describing the experience so well, I feel it will have helped many.’
‘I was moved to email you since recently reading ‘House of Bread’ by Amanda Nicol. I am a very selective reader and it has joined the ranks of ‘unputdownable’, I read the book in one sitting and am recommending it to friends. I found it be both humane and human, well written, accessible, darkly and appropriately humorous and definitely required reading. Anyone who has been on a ‘wobble’ (just about everyone I imagine) can identify with the experience of Dan to a greater or lesser degree. It is not in the least a depressing account of subject matter that can and has been stigmatised. I feel that this book would be a fantastic addition to recommended reading for young teenagers at school, normalising that which can seem both isolating and terrifying.’
‘Amanda has crafted a very well-written novel, and fully deserves the praise that has been heaped upon her in other reviews of the work. It is, in turns, funny, touching and thought-provoking. Her portrayal of the vulnerable Dan is very effective and I was immensely satisfied that the ending showed hope for his future. Her obvious knowledge of the mental health care system and the treatments used enriched the story, which was strong enough to stand on its own. The characters were sympathetic, the dialogue wonderful and I found it an excellent, life-affirming read.’
'What I liked about this book is that it's absorbing from the start, unputdownable you might say. One wants to know from the very beginning what happens next, all the why's and wherefore' s of the situation that Dan, the main character, finds himself in.
Dan is a sympathetic character and the book is written in the ordinary everyday language he would have used. I also liked it because it gave me some understanding of mental illness and mental hospitals, subjects I knew nothing about, and which I think most of us ought to know more about. Subjects which I think many of us shy away from. But mostly I think I liked it for it's humanity, it's way of showing us ordinary people living their lives, falling in love, facing difficulties, dealing with their mental illness. Just Life, really. But Life as it might be if one was overtaken by mental illness. Plus, it has a happy ending.I recommend this book to everybody, from teenage to old age, which is where I'm at.
I gave it this rating because I think it thoroughly deserves it. To my mind it's a most enjoyable book, and an important book, and a very well written book.'
'I bought House of Bread because of the artwork by Roland Jarvis on the cover! Happily it's a great read too. It's funny, touching, enlightening,and ultimately, life affirming. Amanda Nicol is clearly a very intelligent,talented and,I would suggest,compassionate and empathetic author. Her style is that of a writer with the intelligence and ability to write something that is easy and enjoyable to read - avoiding obfuscation and sesquipedalianism (sorry,couldn't resist using one of my favourite words!!) - whilst retaining a very high standard. I'm now looking forward to reading Amanda's other novels.'
‘I expected this to be a difficult book, but no – straight in, easy to read, I laughed, I cried and I found, unexpectedly, bits that hit a personal note.’
'I think this book will appeal to many, as there are many who have been there and are there and will be there in the future. Often those on the outside who have never suffered from a mental illness cannot understand that you can’t take a few pills and then get better in a week.'
‘…there’s a wealth of detail in here (the author writes very, very well by the way) so that you know the author has been there, done that. It’s not a novel which requires a plot; it’s just about a stay in a mental hospital. It’s completely undramatised and all the more effective for it. The problem is that I don’t suppose the author will produce anything else – what would you expect to follow on from this anyway? You know better than I do. And you also know whether or not you can sell such a novel. If you tell the sales department you want to consider a novel about a sectioned manic-depressive, they’ll groan. But given that’s what it is, it’s very, very well done. It’s hard to work out quite what sets it apart from the usual slush-pile loonie-bin saga, but something definitely does.’ (Charming publisher’s reader review)
In Jerusalem by William Blake Plate 31. Los, travelling thro’ darkness and horrid solitude crosses London: Thence to Bethlehem, where was builded Dens of despair in the house of bread; enquiring in vain of stones and rocks he took his way, for human form was none… Bethlehem translates as House of Bread, and St Mary of Bethlehem was the priory founded in 1247 in Bishopsgate which became a mental hospital by the 14th century and known as Bedlam.