There was a lot I liked about Electric and Mad and Brave by Tom Pitts. I’m tempted to say it’s a bit of a departure from my usual crime fiction and thriller reading, but in all honesty a lot of my favourite books are general or literary fiction, so I probably need to stop with the ‘I only read crime fiction’ mantra.
I very much liked our lead Matt, who’s in a mental health in-patient facility. We learn it’s his third time and as a result it probably doesn’t need to be said, but nevertheless this book comes with a big trigger warning relating to mental illness and self-harm.Electric and Mad and Brave
by Tom Pitts
Published by Picador Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
Matt Lacey is in a mental health facility recovering from a breakdown.
In an attempt to work through a mess of conflicting thoughts and feelings, he writes, unwinding the story of his adolescence with the beautiful, impassive, fierce Christina.
As Matt delves into the more agonising moments of his past, he has to learn to look directly at the pain and love that have made him who he is now.
This book predominantly unfolds in the past, through Matt’s memories via a diary he’s been asked to keep by his therapist. Or more specifically a diary that talks about his relationship with Christina and her mother Connie.
We move back and forth though we’re only in the present briefly and usually only for Matt to offer some commentary on his parents’ latest visit, him attempting to reach out to those in his past, or when we’re jarred by an event in the hospital that interrupts his journalling.
I was particularly interested in Matt’s fear of getting the past ‘wrong’. He’s conscious (now) that he perceived things in the way he wanted (as all children do!) but now he doubts himself and his memories – with the benefit of both hindsight and maturity.
Matt’s story starts with his parents leaving him (at 11) with 12yr old Christina and her parents, Connie and Aleksei on their farm, while they travel for a few days. I’m not sure it’s explained why they chose them rather than Sydney-based friends Matt knew better, but we soon discover Connie and Matt’s father have known each other for years and were *possibly* childhood sweethearts. There’s certainly a sense of unrequited love in the present but I wasn’t sure if it’s explained why they hadn’t ended up together.
One of the things I struggled with the most in this book were the things not-quite-revealed. Which may be a result of my obtuseness or Pitts’s intention to have readers reflect young Matt’s confusion! His diaries are (of course) as much about his own family as they are about Christina and Connie and he mentions his father’s disappearances and his mother’s silence on his return. That his mother briefly leaves his father on a few occasions. Obviously he sees their relationship through teenage eyes but knows they’re not happy.
Now of course he’s in his late twenties and had enough therapy that he’s got a pretty good read on them.
I let her chastise me – an acknowledgement of her desire to be needed – studying her face as she speaks, the caking mascara that somehow manages to emphasis insecurity, rather than hide it….
Mum’s taken to detail all renovations; the implication being that I will stay with them when I leave (with a deeper, psychoanalytic implication that I will remain curled in her breast forever). pp 119-120
That first visit to the farm is the start of a fascination with Christina on Matt’s behalf and in the years that follow the pair only see each other intermittently but cling together in a way that those from broken families are wont to do. There’s an acceptance of each other. No questions asked. No questions needed.
Christina knows she can ask me to do anything at all and I’ll do it. She knows she can say whatever she wants and I won’t be upset or object. Centuries of academics expounding the brain as driver of thought and action – all proven wrong: Christina simply grips my heart and my limbs move in whatever manner she designs. In this way, I suppose I’m a prisoner. She’s aware of this, and knows I don’t mind. p 36
We switch back and forth from the past to the present – sometimes mid chapter and on occasions I was a little confused because the dates in both were similar. I also thought there were references to things in the present that – in retrospect – weren’t possible. It becomes clearer however and we realise we’re in Matt’s muddled mind that’s both protected and punished him for over a decade.
Aside from my confusion, I liked the way Pitts portrays mental illness and wellness and how the events of our lives can impact on us and how we view everything else. The concept of cause and effect. Of action, reaction and guilt.
This book is confronting in parts, but felt sympathetic and tender. I perhaps would have liked more focus on Matt’s treatment (aside from the journalling and revisiting his past), though realise at the same time it would have detracted from the important story Matt needed to tell. And accept.
Electric and Mad and Brave by Tom Pitts was published in Australia by PanMacmillan (Picador) and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. And the accompanying media release included a link (via QR code) to the songs that inspired the novel.