Paperback review: The Locked Ward, By Dennis O'Donnell


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The Independent Culture

For seven-and-a-half years, Dennis O'Donnell was an orderly in the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit of a Scottish hospital. All the patients had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and many were violent.

This memoir recounts the highs and lows of life on the ward. It's told in the manner of a bloke down the pub telling you what a hell of a day at work he's had, in a hybrid style with lots of Scottish slang (a bed is a "farter", which I must confess made me laugh) and loads of literary allusions – every chapter begins with an epigraph, and quotes from Shakespeare are scattered throughout the text.

One has to admire O'Donnell for doing such a tough job; but for me the book didn't quite come off. I can see it working as a stand-up routine, though.