Clare Allan was the winner of the first Orange/Harpers short story prize. She lives in London. Poppy Shakespeare, an arresting account of madness set in a North London day hospital, is her first novel.
Photograph Â© Mark Pringle
This is a brilliantly tantalizing debut novel, interweaving madness into the stunning story of two women who meet in a mental institution. The two chief characters provide an emotional plotline which is troubling and frightening by turns; one of them has been in the hospital for years and never wants to leave; the other has just arrived and doesnâ€™t believe she should be there at all. This novel provides incredible, jolting insights into insanity, reality, and the grey areas in between where they meet.
Who is mad? Who is sane? Who decides? Welcome to the Dorothy Fish, a hospital in North London. N has been a patient for thirteen years. Day after day she sits smoking in the common room and swapping medication. Like the other patients, N's ambition is never to be discharged. Then in walks Poppy Shakespeare in a short skirt and snakeskin heels. Poppy is certain she isn't mentally ill and desperate to return to her life outside and, though baffled, N agrees to help her. But in a world where everything's upside down, are they crazy enough to upset the system?