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Bedlam

(novel, 2004)



Canadian hardcover

Canadian paperback

U.S. hardcover

U.S. paperback
 
 

PUBLISHER'S STATEMENT
This extraordinary novel tells a dramatic and compelling story of three people caught up in the turmoil of the late eighteenth century, their lives inexorably intertwined in a time of war and revolution.

Conspiracies, plots and paranoia sweep across England in the aftermath of the French Revolution, landing tea broker James Tilly Matthews in Bethlem Hospital, a notorious, crumbling home for the insane. Although he is clearly delusional, Matthews appears to be incarcerated for unspecified political reasons. His beloved wife, Margaret, spends years trying to free her often lucid husband, only to be blocked at every turn by her chief adversary, John Haslam, Bethlem's apothecary and chief administrator. The ambitious Haslam finds himself trapped between his conscience and a desire to further his career by studying his famous patient.

Bedlam creates an indelible portrait of London, a city teetering between darkness and light, struggling to make its way to a more just and humane future. In its darkest corners, where noblemen, pickpockets, royalists and republicans jostle for power, where corruption is all in a day's work, Hollingshead finds humanity, truth, decency and forgiveness.

Enlivened with wit and intellectual daring, written in a beautiful prose that is resonant with time and place, Bedlam sweeps the reader into a strange yet somehow recognizable world that often echoes our own. From the enduring love of Matthews and his wife, to the despair of the Bethlem inmates, to the moral agonies of John Haslam, Hollingshead's eye for rendering the human condition has never been finer. This is a flawless novel in which imagination bridges the chasm between love and hate, between loss and reconciliation.

PRAISE FOR BEDLAM
"Bedlam is a tough, textured book, vibrant and complex and compelling. . . . Greg Hollingshead creates a remarkably detailed picture of the social and political worlds of the 18 th century that raises intensely important questions about our own."
--Michael Crummey

"An imaginative tour de force. Bedlam has the slippery lucidity of its subject: knowing madness in a world gone mad."
--Elizabeth Hay

"Bedlam is stylishly written, full of dazzling epigrammatic insights into authority, tyranny, jealousy, love and other knotty aspects of human nature."
--The Globe and Mail

"An exquisitely rendered tour of melancholy and raving madness tempered with profound love and hope. . . . Not since Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea . . . has the sordid depravity and mercurial beauty of the unhinged mind been illuminated. . . . Hollingshead's style is strangely compelling. It's harsh, intimate and wise and filled with poetic flashes and sublime humour."
-- Ottawa Citizen

"Hollingshead has long used empathy, wit and lucid prose to nail contemporary manners. Now he has applied those same qualities to a very different epoch, and, as a good historical novel should, Bedlam shows how some things may not have changed as much as we think."
--The Gazette ( Montreal)

"[Hollingshead] has brilliantly brought to life the atmosphere, ideas and language of late-18 th- and early 19 th-century England. . . . With a pair of rich characters (and Matthews' wife is no small achievement, either), a vivid setting and a nuanced, thought-provoking set of ideas, Bedlam ought to attract considerable attention this year in Canada and internationally."
-- Winnipeg Free Press

"Hollingshead's use of three narrators to tell the same story gives Bedlam a multifaceted depth and complexity few contemporary Canadian novels achieve."
-- Calgary Herald

"[Hollingshead] handles his first-rate material with verve and sensitivity."
--Maclean's

"A rich, complex and often disturbing novel about an extraordinary man."
--The Hamilton Spectator

"Delivers shocking jolts of truth about the immutable dilemmas of the human condition."
-- Edmonton Journal

"Meticulously crafted."
--The Chronicle Herald ( Halifax)

"An important and compassionate contribution to the literature of madness."
--The Vancouver Sun

AUTHOR'S STATEMENT
Bedlam is a novel based on the true story of James Tilly Matthews, an inmate of Bethlem Hospital at Moorfields in London during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Although delusional, Matthews is in for political reasons, and his wife Margaret spends ten years trying to get him out. Her primary opponent, the author of an eloquent description of his condition (the first extended account of a paranoid system in English), is the author and apothecary John Haslam, a man compromised by defending an imprisonment he has been given no reason for, of a patient who he knows would be better off released. Bedlam is told in the voices of these three characters.

The British social historian Roy Porter has told this story most thoroughly in his 1988 edition of Haslam's book concerning Matthews, Illustrations of Madness (1810). While exercising some fictional licence, I am doing my best to be faithful to the characters, their voices, their experiences, and the times.

PRAISE FOR GREG HOLLINGSHEAD
" Wit, imagination, intensity abound . . . an elegant sensibility."
- The Globe and Mail

"Hollingshead understands some of the most intricate manoeuvres of the human heart."
- Books in Canada

" . . . a writer who deserves to be considered in the front ranks of contemporary fiction writers."
- NeWest Review

"(What is) immediately striking about Hollingshead is the gravity of his voice, which is authorial and strong even in its comic mode."
- Kirkus Reviews

"An imagination that moves equally freely in the realms of the bizarre and the everyday."
- Times Literary Supplement

"There's an electricity in the writing . . . it's honest and organic in its discovery of characters, human tendencies, the natural – that all speaks of his gifts as a storyteller."
- Quill & Quire

"[W]it, intelligence, provocation, a refined focus on the rhythms and nuances of language, meticulous research and big ideas worthy of attention."
--idea&s [Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto]

"Hollingshead narrates the story of paradoxically ordinary characters practising affective individualism in a surreal setting."
--History of Psychiatry

"It is . . . very much worth entering into this world, not only because of the novel's wonderful climax, but because of what Bedlam achieves in general by experimenting with the grandeur and the intimacy of eighteenth-century prose as well as with the themes of reality and illusion."
--Canadian Literature

"[S]uperbly disturbing . . a decidedly intellectual yet profoundly moving examination of both mental and political lunacy . . ."
--The Boston Globe

"[G]orgeous . . . heartfelt writing and smart research . . . carefully unearthing and framing a long-lost time."
--New York Times Book Review