Miriam Hastings' The Minotaur Hunt is an engrossing novel set in a mental health institution and in the minds of some of its patients. It was first published by Harvester Press in 1987 and won the 1988 Mind Book of the Year award from the eponymous mental health charity. It was republished on Kindle by the author with an Afterword in December 2013, nearly 15 years after it went out of print along with the rest of Harvester's fiction catalogue after the Simon and Schuster take-over.
The story is set in a rambling London mental health institution in 1982. It is mostly centred on the character of teenage patient Rachel and her interior thoughts, but also on the lives and thoughts of other young patients on her ward. Hastings presents a positive image of mental illness but a negative one of the ward staff. The staff are not presented in as dark a light as those of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it remains a negative view of these large-scale mental health institutions. Interestingly, the British government closed down these Victorian institutions within a decade of the original publication date of this novel.
The positive portrayal is very well done, yet it does not pull any punches about the difficulties faced by those with serious mental illness, akin to the tone of (the non-fictional) My Mad Fat Diary. The depictions of mental illness in Minotaur Hunt may make difficult reading for those who have experienced such difficulties or had close friends or relatives going through such problems. Nevertheless, I welcome the republication of Hastings' novel as it is deals sensitively with a truth that needs to be told and a fictional telling can often get the root of the issue in a way that non-fiction cannot. The British mental health system might have moved on from these large-scale institutions, but it is important to recognise that they continue to exist in some parts of the world and it is good to be reminded of the limitations of this approach to healthcare.
Readers should find The Minotaur Hunt a worthwhile read if they enjoy a good fictional representation of mental illness that does not shirk from the more difficult issues.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved