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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Nobody I Know by John J Gaynard is a cynical, farcical look at mental health issues through the prism of extremism and the eyes of Patient XYJ, who doesn’t remember who he is, or indeed why he has been for the past eight years in a psychiatric institution, colloquially known as the “Black House”. Like all the returning jihadists whom former CIA interrogator and psychiatrist Dr O’Neill has treated in the past with unusual success, Patient XYJ is subjected to inhumane treatment, scorn and ridicule by O’Neill. He uses patients merely to progress his own ambitions and wealth rather than from any innate desire to heal or to reintegrate previously violent and disturbed patients back into society. When Patsy Burke emerges from the toilet, he has no idea who he is or where he is, beyond that he is being held in a mental institution against his will. He has no recollection of the various personas he has adopted over the past eight years of custody, and he must find a way to rediscover his identity and destroy the hold the evil Dr O’Neill has over him.
I can honestly say that Nobody I Know is the most unusual, slightly disturbing, but eminently readable book I have been lucky enough to read in the past few years. Author John J Gaynard has reached into the depths of the human mind and provided a thought-provoking treatise on mental health, attitudes to mental health and, in general, the human condition. By using the absolute polar extreme of a mental institution run by a “mad doctor” along with a procession of “crazy” trustee patients, Gaynard has made readers focus on our attitudes not just to mental health, but life in general. Totally topical and up to date in its current world focus, the book uses Patsy Burke to explore what can happen when essentially good people fall apart mentally.
At times the narrative is harrowing and difficult to stomach, but the message is loud and clear and, if nothing else, this focus on the behaviour and excesses of both characters, Burke and O’Neill, presents two sides of the same coin for readers to consider. Who is the sane one here and who is the insane one? Because of the nature of the narrative, the characters are necessarily overdrawn to the point of caricature, but this is wonderfully well done by the author. I particularly liked the connections between the characters in the story and historical figures. This is a book that leaves you thinking and asking yourself questions long after you put it down and that is probably the highest praise I can give this author.