Published December 2013
1885. Anne Stanbury - Committed to a lunatic asylum, having been deemed insane and therefore unfit to stand trial for the crime of which she is indicted. But is all as it seems?
Edgar Stanbury - the grieving husband and father who is torn between helping his confined wife recover her sanity, and seeking revenge on the woman who ruined his life.
Dr George Savage - the well respected psychiatrist, and chief medical officer of Bethlem Royal Hospital. Ultimately, he holds Anne's future wholly in his hands.
The Medea Complex tells the story of a misunderstood woman suffering from insanity in an era when mental illnesses' were all too often misdiagnosed and mistreated. A deep and riveting psychological thriller set within an historical context, packed full of twists and turns, The Medea Complex explores the nature of the human psyche: what possesses us, drives us, and how love, passion, and hope for the future can drive us to insanity.
***(UPDATE 5/3/14: Since posting this review, the author has advised that all the errors referred to below have been corrected. She is sending me an up to date version and once I have had a chance to read the book again, I will update my review. ***
When I was asked by Rachel towards the end of last year if I would like to read this, I was immediately interested in the concept. Unfortunately its taken me longer to get to it than I had hoped.
The story begins in 1885 with Lady Anne Stanbury being incarcerated in Bethlem Royal Hospital (also known by its nickname of “Bedlam”). Anne has been accused of committing a brutal crime and has been spared a trial and the gallows by being declared insane. However, she has no memories of what she has done and is convinced that she has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom, her father being a wealthy man. However, what Anne doesn’t realise is that but for her father’s influence and patronage of the Bethlem, she would have been sent to Broadmoor.
Dr George Savage is the chief medical officer at Bethlem and holds Anne’s future in his hands. Initially he seems to take a rather modernist approach to the treatment of the insane. He shuns the more traditional treatments that his predecessors carried out and at first sight the hospital seems a rather benign place; for example, dances are held where food and drink are provided and patients and staff can mingle, the corridors contain potted flowers, and ornamental bird cages. However, there is also another side to the hospital which we see through Anne’s eyes - the grim conditions that patients endured, with straw mattresses and some treatments that were possibly more likely to kill rather than to cure. Anne’s battles with the nasty Nurse Ruth get quite messy and violent. Nevertheless, Dr Savage is convinced that Anne is suffering from Puerperal Mania following childbirth (which we know today as post-natal depression), and he is sure that she can be cured and returned to her husband. There is rather a sting in the tale though – for if Anne is declared to be sane then she will be returned to jail to stand trial.
There was one moment in the book when Dr Savage (who by the way was a real person) and I would definitely have come to blows. Anne loved reading (don’t we all!) and her maid Beatrix tells Dr Savage that Anne had read a great deal before giving birth. Dr Savage’s response was thus “…..it is for this reason women should not educate themselves beyond affairs of the home. I put down my pen. She has confirmed my suspicions. I know exactly what caused her insanity. Books…..”. Oh dear, Dr Savage, what a dinosaur you are!
Throughout the book the narrative switches between Anne, Dr Savage, Anne’s husband Edgar and Beatrix - Anne’s faithful maid. Both Anne and Edgar seemed to me to be unreliable narrators – I was never quite sure who was telling the truth. Edgar was not a likeable character (although it’s to the author’s credit that I later began to feel some sympathy for him); there were times when he seemed to be more interested in his wife’s fortune than her wellbeing and he veered between declaring his love for her, and wishing her ill. Given that in those times, women were incarcerated in asylums for the most spurious of reasons it was not difficult to imagine that Anne may actually have been innocent of the crime and sent to Bethlem for no good reason other than her husband wanting her out of the way.
The story was well structured with a good amount of suspense and pace provided by means of short chapters and a clever twist. The characters are as we see them, with all their flaws and secrets. There isn’t really any in-depth characterisation, but then again the story moves quite quickly over a period of about 6 months and possibly it would slow it down too much to add any more detail.
The story certainly kept my interest however I did become distracted and irritated by the numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout the book. I’m assuming that it hadn’t been proof read before the author released it to request reviews. Although a lot of research appears to have been done the language used didn’t always seem to fit the period – bearing in mind that the story was set in 1885/6, I’m not convinced that an elderly 19th century lawyer would have used the words “…None, Zip, Nada..” or that someone would have uttered the words “coffin dodger” . There were also inconsistencies between the timeline dates and the text and to add to the confusion, the wrong names were sometimes used.
As much as I enjoyed the story, in my opinion these errors did let the book down and based on the book I read, I would only rate as 3/5. If the errors were corrected and the book properly proof read and edited then it could be an excellent read.
About the author:
British born and raised, Rachel Florence Roberts is a registered nurse, fiancée and mother of one based in Malta. The Medea Complex was written shortly after the birth of her son, and took almost two years to complete. She suffered with postnatal depression in a country that did not understand her, and was henceforth the inspiration behind the novel. The Medea Complex will make anyone who has ever thought, lived, laughed and loved, question the importance of those and everything around them.
The Medea Complex Website, Twitter