One Green Bottle (by Debrah Nixon) is a fictionalised account of one woman’s experience with mental illness and the rigours of her treatment through the South African psychiatric services. The novel deals with the painful effects that mental illness can have on family life and presents a vivid picture of daily life in a South African psychiatric facility.
An attack by a swarm of bees brings on a panic attack for Jennifer Hartley, a small-town farmer’s wife and mother of two young children. She is admitted to a psychiatric facility where she is surrounded by patients whose lives, like her own, are steadily disintegrating. Interaction between the inmates of the facility is wise and often lively and entertaining in spite of their shared mantle of mental illness.
Filtered through a highly sensitised and sensory consciousness, Jennifer Hartley’s story swings back and forth between ward life and periods of rest in her home environment. In repeated admissions to psychiatric ward care, her condition is variously described and diagnosed. The health professionals hover on the margins of this world. They are experienced by the patients of the facility as aloof and enforcers of a regimented treatment regime. There is some hope for those who suffer mental illness, however, and it is often found in unlikely places.
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