It’s officially my first review of the year and I’m here to say I already broke one of my bookish resolutions- well, sorta broke it. I promised to read light this year but somehow picked up The Madhouse which is the exact opposite of “light”. It’s a difficult book to review, not because it’s not good, but because there’s a lot to talk about. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible.
Synopsis of The Madhouse
“A house brings two unique people together by the unlikeliest of chances. In their union, that of an almost priest and a prodigal daughter, two brothers whose bond transcend the laws of nature are born.
Andre and Max have a seemingly blissful life until the boys start sharing dreams and their lives begin to unravel Murderous thoughts, maniac dreams, and their somewhat unbreakable wandering between reality and reverie, would lead them down unknown paths that threaten to severe their family ties.
In this exhilarating and dreamy narration set against the backdrop of a tumultuous era of military rule in Nigeria, Tj Benson weaves a spellbinding tale about the clashes between cultures, the impact of fragile political situations on everyday people. and the lengths we are willing to go in order to save our loved ones.”
Trigger warning – Child abuse/Pedophilia/Suicide attempts
The book focuses on the lives of four people and a series of traumatic events that they have all had to deal with, as well as the effects of these events on their lives. The author begins by telling us about Freetown Street and the strange people who live there, but the main focus of the book is on the Madhouse, the last house on the right on Freetown Street, and its strange occupants, our main characters. The story is told from the different perspectives of the eccentric parents, Sweet Mother (we never learn her real name) and Father, aka Shariff, and their boys (Max and Andre), in a third-person narration style.
Set in the 90s in Nigeria, with the backdrop of the political scene at the time. We are taken on a dream-like journey through time. The first half of the book felt like a dream. It was almost like I was being carried along in a dream and I had no control of where they was taking me. At some point, it felt like even the author had no control of where it was going. Lol it was just going.
Through times, countries, and characters, I was in a constant state of trying to put a puzzle together, as it felt like these pieces were just casually thrown at me and I had to make sense of them as I progressed.
Two relationships were explored in this book. The relationship between the brothers and between their parents. While I found the former a little worrying, the latter was quite interesting. The brothers’ relationship felt one-sided, with one giving so much and the other just dealing with his own issues. I spoke to someone about this and his response was “Isn’t that usually how it is?”
The characters in this book will linger in your mind for a long time. They are so different yet so similar in the way the trauma of their childhood affected them. Of all the characters, I connected the most with Max and Sweet Mother. I was surprised by how much I liked Max, but I soon realized why… I pitied him. I wanted him to want more out of life and know that he could not save everyone.
What I liked
How well developed the characters were. You can get a real sense of who they are and are able to better understand their actions.
The prose (especially in the beginning). It was just so beautiful. It is very clear the author CAN write !
The relationship between Sweet Pea and Shariff. I know they were very irresponsible, but I liked that they lived their lives how they wanted to (with or without their kids). They did their own thing and were their own people. It’s selfish, but it didn’t mean they didn’t love their children. Parents often get so consumed with their children that they forget to have a life of their own.
The art. It was so obvious the author is an artist himself because the way he describes the art in the book was so beautiful.
Despite the heaviness of the book, I found some parts humourous. I actually laughed out loud a few times. I wasn’t even sure those parts were intended to be funny but I did appreciate the humour.
What I didn’t like
The flow of the story was a bit disjointed. I eventually got what the author was trying to do but I just wish he didn’t give us the task of constantly trying to put the puzzle pieces together.
I also found some parts of the book unnecessary and felt like they could’ve been left out as they didn’t add much to the story.
This book is heavy on trauma. It explores mental illness, abuse, dysfunctional parenting, family, love, childhood trauma, political scene in the 90s (Military regime) in Nigeria, spirituality and religion.
The story wraps up beautifully and you get to understand why the characters behaved the way they did. It’s a sad book but the story of this family, their history and their “plenty plenty” wahala is not one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.
You will like this book if:
- You like books with a wandering/dream-like narration.
- You like books that explore dysfunctional family dynamics.
*** Using storygraphs review pattern, I’d say this is a sad, adventurous, dark and challenging book.
This review is so apt tbh.
Exactly how I felt about the book and I’m low-key hoping to read more from the author.
He has a new book out later this year. I’ll remind you! I’ll definitely be reading it.
With your review, looks like i will be reading my copy soon.
With all the trigger warnings, I think this review still somehow makes me wanna read this. I am so curious now, I need to know why Max doesn’t want much out of life and my his trying to save everyone.
It’s a whole lot. The characters in this book are chaotic!
LOL! I hope you get around to reading it! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it