Date of review: July 6, 2022
Michael Thomas’s epistolary novel is written in the voice of Jeff— a boy who spends 45 days in a psychiatric hospital. Each chapter is written as an entry to his journal, detailing the experience of his day in the ward. It offers an intimate view into his mind, as well as existential questions and moral dilemmas that he grapples with, demonstrating complex and authentic character development.
The novel explores key themes, such as the struggles of coming out to oneself and to others, the way our truth unravels over time, feeling of being misunderstood, lost friendship, experience of shame, confused pain, and the complexities surrounding suicide. Michael often uses humour to diffuse his exploration of these truly difficult topics, but there is profoundness in that humour: it left me laughing amidst tears. I appreciated how the novel challenges our common understanding of what it means to be “normal” and “not normal” or “crazy”.
In spite of these strengths, I felt that the depiction of Jeff’s traumatic experiences within the psychiatric hospital was not fully explored or labelled as such. It seemed to me that Jeff was actually re-traumatised by being sexually abused in the hospital, but Ford brushed over this in his exploration. Jeff himself doesn’t understand what’s happened to him and is left wondering if it is his fault — in turn, I was left feeling that the novel did not properly separate his experience of abuse in the hospital from his realisation that he is gay. These two experiences should have been properly separated, especially given the misconception that a boy being abused by a man ‘turn them gay’! This could be confusing to certain readers who are grappling with their own sexual identities or issues of abuse, so I felt this was worth flagging to future readers as a concern.
Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford is available to purchase on Amazon UK