The medical term known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) came to the forefront following the Vietnam conflict. Soldiers returned home mentally scarred by the ravages of war. Lives were forever changed. PTSD is nothing new, and certainly has been around since man started to have their first battles, but has only recently been recognized as a distinctive problem.
Bedlam South is a interesting novel that takes a look at the American Civil War as seen through the eyes of two confederate soldiers, and brothers, and a doctor who works with the mentally insane. But are these patients insane or merely pawns in the game of war?
I am always curious about novels with two authors, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I for one could not possibly conceive of writing a novel with someone else, my ego is to big, and a novel is an intensely personal thing. A little bit of research reveals that these two authors have been friends for many years. They are both new to the authoring business, but one of them may have got some guidance from his older brother. Yes Mark Grisham is John Grisham’s brother. Digging further we find that Mark is a bit of a history fan, particularly the Civil War era, while David has been interested in Psychology and mental health for many years.
What is interesting is that these two authors have managed to keep a consistent voice and style throughout Bedlam South, yet clearly it is possible to see which of them inspired a particular sub plot.
Two brothers, the battle seasoned Billy, and his younger brother Zeke stand shoulder to shoulder on the battlefield fighting for the confederate army. Split up in a devastating battle with the Northern forces they spend the rest of the war not knowing if each other is alive, but somehow trying to force the horrors of war and the potential results from their mind.
Dr. Joseph Bryarly meanwhile is running a mental asylum in England, the call to arms comes, and somewhat reluctantly returns to the America to head up Wingate Asylum in Richmond, Virginia, a facility for the mentally insane and war criminals.
Today the concept of such a place is abhorrent, but in the 1860′s this was not an unusual arrangement, and certainly Russia did very similar things up until the 1970′s. The term therapy has to be very loosely interpreted to use it in the context of ‘helping’ patients.
The mid 1800′s saw some very unique treatments, most of which called into question the sanity of the staff rather than the patients. Dr. Bryarly is not without his own demons, and as the war progresses he becomes more and more disconnected with reality, seeking solace in drink and drugs. The horrors of his past matched with the horrors of the present seem to overwhelm him. Can he survive? Or maybe more importantly does he have the will to survive?
I enjoyed Bedlam South, it is well written and well researched, however I still have some questions about the effectiveness of having joint authors. The book is really two mostly unrelated stories that the reader must wait until the final pages to understand how they relate. I think that had the two stories intertwined in a more significant way in the early part of the book it would have made for a better end result.
I still enjoyed it, and if you have someone on your Christmas gift list that enjoys historical novels of the Civil War era, this one is a must have. You can order your copy from the authors web site.