Review Blog

Mar 13 2012

The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod

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Penguin, 2012. ISBN 9780143565307.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Fifteen year old Colin Lapsley is visited by the shiny guys, strange creatures that he can see out of the corner of his eye. Colin is convinced that they want him to pay for the terrible thing that he has done. His frantic parents have him admitted to Ward 44 where he befriends Mango who has an attachment disorder (he 'grabs people from behind and holds on') and Anthea, who is anorexic.
The book begins: 'This story is set in 1985. Psychiatric wards are different today.' MacLeod has written a tour de force about mental illness, leavening it with his outstanding ability to write humorous one liners. Colin is a wonderful character who uses jokes to cover up his thoughts about the serious stuff that is happening around him. At the same time he is a caring boy who looks after Mango and ensures that Anthea, as a new patient, fits into the complex social structure of Ward 44. As a reader I became engrossed in the lives of these three patients, sympathising with them about their relationships with their parents and revelling in their strengths and generosity. MacLeod's device of having some chapters written in Mango's almost illiterate hand, and question and answers from Anthea and her doctor add to the reader's understanding of the three main characters and give some relief from Colin's predicament.
MacLeod also builds up a strong thread of suspense that left me wondering just what had happened to Colin's sister, Briony, who was lost on a bushwalk, and how he was involved. Small hints are dropped throughout the book and these kept me reading avidly. The reason for Mango's attachment disorder is also a theme that is puzzling.
Most of all though, it is the serious theme of mental illness that captured my interest. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy), and then spending time looking at websites that discussed its medical background and effectiveness.
Although at times this novel is very dark, MacLeod leaves the reader with a ray of hope that a person with a mental illness can, with the help of caring friends, and medical intervention, fight through depression and better understand their feelings. Background to the novel can be found on his blog.
Pat Pledger

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