by Susan Tarr
Also published in USA with the title PHENOMENA: the Lost and Forgotten Children
Malcolm is a kid with a gammy leg, a lazy eye and a pig of a father, who is abandoned at Seacliff railway station watching the train disappear down the track. He is six years old and his loving mother has died, but not before having to endure seeing a young hussy take over her home and her husband. The station master, who has seen it all before, gathers up the bewildered child and Malcolm finds himself a resident at the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, the refuge for the unloved and unlovable, the uneducated and unwanted, the soon to be forgotten.
The very word “Seacliff” is enough to make a New Zealander shudder. In spite of rather beautiful surroundings and the often well-meant but ignorant care, its history is grim and the tales that have seeped out over the years about the place have done nothing to dispel the greyness of it all. In this book Susan Tarr has told the story of Malcolm, who spent decades shut away, slowly sinking into a dumb, stoical, confused existence under a rule of “fear and obey” enforced by treatments he didn’t understand or deserve.
He grew up big and strong, knowing and observant and gentle. He made friends with everybody: patients and staff, the people who lived outside and came and went. The woman who killed her abusive husband before he could kill her and the children, and was saved from prison or execution by a plea of insanity. The fat woman who was once slim and beautiful but who couldn’t stop eating. Her parents were more interested in their social ambitions than the daughter who became inconveniently pregnant. They forced her to have an abortion, had her sterilised and committed, and announced her “death” in the Otago Daily Times. The woman who kept killing her babies. The man who hanged himself, and the one who tried to drown himself in the toilet.
Malcolm was not insane, and he began to hide his pills instead of taking them. He learnt how to avoid the treatments, and shreds of memory returned, to be sorted and stitched together. He absorbed information and knowledge and understanding. Luckily someone noticed, and helped. But it took a long time, during which Malcolm, watching butterflies and cockroaches emerge from their larval state, saw that he too could shed the old skin and find the person inside.
This is a spirit-enhancing story, based on a real Malcolm that the author knew. It is also the history of the institution of Seacliff itself and of the way that the general population viewed those who were hidden away, sometimes for spurious reasons. It is a grotesque and shameful story but, in the end, a satisfying one, well-paced and beautifully written.
Publisher: Oceanbooks, Tauranga. 2013
ISBN: PoD 978-1-927215-31-9; ePub 978-1-927215-32-6; Mobi 978-1-927215-33-3
Available: Hardcopy through OBDistributors@gmail.com
Ebook through http://www.oceanbooks.co.nz/novels/seacliff-a-regular-boy-within-1.html
Published 2014 by Planettopia, USA, as PHENOMENA: The Lost and Forgotten Children
e-book: ISBN-13: 978-0-9910845-6-2; ePub ISBN-10: 099108456x
paper: ISBN-10: 0991084551 ISBN-13: 978-0-9910845-5-5