Mental health issues are difficult to grasp, especially for those who have never dealt with it. It’s a concept that is abstract and sometimes, it feels unreal. It may explain why writers such as Beth Revis and Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five) choose to depict it in a Syfy manner. Like Vonnegut’s novel, A World Without You depicts the delusions and hallucinations created by mental issues as time travel. The difference though is that Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse-Five, is a veteran with a post-traumatic shock disorder (PTSD, or PTSI), and Bo has mental issues that are not linked to any given trauma (that we know of). However, the similarities between the two speak to the usefulness of Syfy elements to attempt a description of mental illness.
Bo is the protagonist of the story. He is enrolled in a school for those who have special needs. He lives there in a unit with Ryan, Sofia, Gwen, Harold and their Doctor. Sofia is his girlfriend and when she dies, Bo’s delusions become more prevalent. The novel follows his attempts to “save” Sofia as he believes that she is “stuck in the past” because of him. His obsession makes it impossible for him to truly process her death. This takes a toll on his family, especially his sister who finds it difficult to cope with the impact of Bo’s illness on their family.
Overall, Revis’ depictions of the characters are neither stereotypical nor well-rounded. It’s not that they lack depth, well some do. It’s more that they perform how you’d think they would. In fact, I would say that Bo may be more on the well-developed and well-written side. Others aren’t. That would be the biggest weakness of the novel.
However, this may also be one of its strength. The subject matter that Revis explores is difficult, especially for young adults who may not have had contact with it. Mental illnesses are not an easy thing to represent, but Revis does it well. Her focus is on how the characters experience their illness and how others perceive it. She details Bo’s episodes which contrast with the depictions of the characters. I have two theories as to why her descriptions are so stereotypical. My first hypothesis is the following: in order for the subject to be at the centre of the text, Revis needed to tone down the characters. It enables the focus to be on the matter instead of on the characters. My second hypothesis is that Bo’s understanding of the world is simpler not because he is not smart, but because of his delusions. He sees the world through an “essential” lens, that is in a way that essentializes others. Phoebe, on the other hand, sees the shades of the people around her. It may be completely something else. It may even be just that Revis couldn’t write well-rounded characters. Still, it seems that there is more to it than just bad writing.
The first 25 pages, I wasn’t sure I’d like the novel. But I stuck to it and I’m glad I did. It’s always interesting to see how authors treat mental illness and if they rise to the challenge. I think that her overall performance is positive
So if you’re looking to read a book that depicts how someone living with mental illness experiences their situation, and at the same time have a glimpse of the impact it can have on
those around them, this is one good
book to do so.
Pictures by L.
Buy this book online at our favourite Indie Bookstore:
La Maison Anglaise