Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Key by Kathryn Hughes

The Key- Kathryn Hughes-5**
Ellen Crosby is a student nurse at the Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum in the 1950’s.
Things are very different to how mental health is treated now. Doors are locked,
ECT is standard and nursing methods are rather harsh to say the least. Ellen has a
caring side to her nature and wants to do more for some of these patients who
are stuck there being treated with archaic methods even then. Gertie has been
there for 40 years and no one knows why, her records having been archived.
Amy, a young woman,  has been committed by her father who no longer wants
to see her. Ellen is determined that she won’t become another Gertie.
Meanwhile in the present day Sarah is researching a book about the asylum
and despite the “do not trespass” notices goes and explores as she has done
beforehand with her homeless friend Nathan. Behind a locked door she finds
a pile of suitcases each labelled with a number and their contents untouched
for decades. This is a very well written book that you take to in the first few pages.
Ellen you can’t help but like and there is humour in some of the situations that
she finds herself in. I am not usually into historical novels but this one has that
bit more. Written with feeling and empathy, serious subject matter but still
mostly lighthearted . A book to relax with and soak up times gone by and
appreciate how much things have changed for the better  (for example- a man
being committed because  quote“he is one of those” so needs treatment to
“put him on the right path”). From how this is written there has been much
research done and whilst yes there is artistic licence- it is a fiction book after
all- there is truth in the treatments of the day and how such patients were
handled and locked away. I looked up Enoch Powell's “water tower” speech.
Like Ellen he was ahead of his time. We perhaps remember him for other things
but on this his ideas were sound in my humble opinion.
A brave topic, a sensitive issue, a wonderful read.

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