Haunted journeys through the human mind

Why reading scores of books on mental health is an annual pleasure for Mind Book of the Year judge, Fay Weldon
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The Independent Culture

Judging the Mind Book of the Year - which I have been doing for the past 10 years - is an annual treat. This year's judges, Blake Morrison, Michèle Roberts and myself, read 120 entries between us. These are not the most cheerful books in the world - Mind being our leading mental health charity and the prize being for "the book that makes the most significant contribution to mental health problems" - but the works that come in for judging are among the most eloquent and moving you are likely to come across in a year's reading. And what I know now that I didn't know then! There's no lack of literary sophistication, either, in this year's winning shortlist.

Judging the Mind Book of the Year - which I have been doing for the past 10 years - is an annual treat. This year's judges, Blake Morrison, Michèle Roberts and myself, read 120 entries between us. These are not the most cheerful books in the world - Mind being our leading mental health charity and the prize being for "the book that makes the most significant contribution to mental health problems" - but the works that come in for judging are among the most eloquent and moving you are likely to come across in a year's reading. And what I know now that I didn't know then! There's no lack of literary sophistication, either, in this year's winning shortlist.

'The Pits and the Pendulum' by Brian Adams (Jessica Kingsley) Brian Adams is a natural writer and a natural wit, who also happens to suffer from bi-polar disorder, and has served his time in various mental institutions. This ex-baker and confectioner, and one-time community worker, has written a sensitive, cheerful, useful book which converts personal tragedy into something of real value to the rest of us.

'A Double Life' by Sarah Burton (Penguin) Sarah Burton is an academic who normally specialises in Restoration Theatre, but who now turns out to be a biographer of real note. This account of the lives of Charles and Mary Lamb (he was in modern terms a depressive alcoholic, she, his sister, from time to time mad and murderous) is elegantly and smoothly written, excellently and interestingly researched, remarkably easy to read.

'Mourning Ruby' by Helen Dunmore (Penguin) This accomplished and ambitious novel is Dunmore's eighth. A mother, abandoned herself at birth, then losing her own child, comes to terms with herself and the realities of life and death. Dunmore gracefully skirts sentimentality and manages a moving yet upbeat book.

'Time Out Of Mind' by Jane Lapotaire (Time Warner) We knew about the brilliance of the acting, now we can only be impressed by the writing. Jane Lapotaire charts the course of her recovery, still ongoing, from a cerebral aneurysm. She is candid, self-critical and enormously likeable even as she describes herself as behaving like a spoilt child. A great read, albeit at Ms Lapotaire's expense.

'Pure Madness' by Jeremy Laurance (Routledge) Jeremy Laurance (health editor of The Independent) has written an indictment of the state of the mental health services, driven as they are by political fear of public opinion, and the resulting trend towards the increased coercion and chemical containment of disturbed patients - or users, as they are known. It is a most important and impassioned book.

'Giving Up the Ghost' by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate) The book makes me smile even to think of it - yet a haunted journey through illness and bereavement is hardly a mirthful subject. But that's Hilary Mantel's skill. In this five-part autobiography, Mantel takes on her own life as subject. It's stranger than fiction, but that makes it all the more inspiring for the reader.

The award for Mind Book of the Year, supported by The Independent on Sunday, will be awarded on Wednesday 19th May at a ceremony hosted by Melvyn Bragg, president of Mind, and David Henry, the chair of the mental health charity. The awards will take place at Glaziers Hall in London.

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