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Mark Fleming

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Chipmunka Publishing

Published : 2009

Copyright : Mark Fleming 2009

ISBN-10 : PB 1-84747-933-2
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-84747-933-4

Publisher's Write-Up

Warning: Contains Explicit Language.

'BrainBomb' is a novel telling the lurid story of bi-polar illness from the inside. It is related as an ongoing blog, with flashbacks, and deranged fantasies instigated by insomnia. It details the manic highs and terrifying lows of a condition that is much commoner than society would like to think.

Most importantly, it is about the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Dave Lett (181009) Rating (9/10)

Review by Dave Lett
Rating 9/10
This novel is a rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of mental illness, experienced by a young Scotsman, Neil Armstrong. The story commences at his lowest point, when he has a complete breakdown and is locked-up in a psychiatric hospital. The chapters then unfold like a diary, initially describing flashbacks; only instead of any daily sequence we plunge into the lifestyle that contributed to his depression, then spring forward with the ebb and flow of his bipolar condition.

The opening sequence juxtaposes mania and 'normality'. Neil descends into madness, literally 'headbanging' with a mirror in his bedroom, while his parents watch the BBC comedy show 'The Two Ronnies'. For all the paranoia and hedonism, Neil isn't really any kind of party animal. He plays in a rock band, but only occasionally. He is an office drone. Like many people, he has missed opportunities. His existence is ordinary. "I had colleagues who were hoovering as much drink and drugs as myself, indulging in as many one-night stands. That fine line between mental health and ill-health was governed by minute chemical imbalances in the brain, not tallies of pints".

Particularly effective are the scenes where Neil is succumbing to insomnia. His fantasies take him to imaginary parallel worlds. He visualises gang fights in post-war Glasgow, the Spanish Civil War's 'Red Terror',and Nuremberg rallies. In another occasion we are plunged into the ultra-violence of medieval warfare. An artillery strike is rivetingly described: "Heads were pulped into purple fragments. The man furthest in front, a towering redhead, was cleft in two. For a second his legs remained, supporting a ragged ball of pelvic bone and innards, like some nightmarish tree".

As he becomes more paranoid, the intensity of the first-person narrative increases, taking us right into the eye of the mental meltdown.
The determined prose is overwritten at times. You can sense Fleming's eagerness to tell his story occasionally eclipsing what he could merely show us. But there is no doubting his sincerity as this semi-autobiography launches us into magic mushroom trips, the frenetic joys of an early gig by The Clash, tribal violence, sordid post-club sexual encounters; and occasionally, quiet family scenes.

The way the story unfolded reminded me of Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Key events become triggers for flashbacks. Although Armstrong's illness is at the core, the narrative is multi-layered, taking us to equally traumatic scenes elsewhere in his life: if his health could be imagined like a cardiograph, his bipolar breakdown marks one obvious trough. But there are many others; some even deeper.

Fleming uses the device of short, concise chapters, headed-up with their dates, then shuffles these. Instead of any linear progression we do get more of a Slaughterhouse 5 scenario, where everything connects, to a greater or lesser extent. This gives a sense of empathy for the protagonist as we get to know formative events; what drives him. So there are vivid descriptions of his first experience of being drunk, an episode of sexual abuse as a child, his dabbling with cannabis then stronger drugs, immersion in the violent and chaotic world of Britain's punk rock scene in the 1970s, promiscuity in Edinburgh night clubs.

There is much humour in Fleming's story, but within a page-turn the self-deprecation can twist into despair. This mirrors the unpredictable swings and roundabouts of bipolar illness.

Published by Chipmunka, who specialise in work by people who live with mental health issues, BrainBomb is hugely entertaining, and finishes on a positive note. But as Fleming frequently points out, mental illness remains stigmatized.
Dave Lett (18th October 2009)

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