Brick Mother is the debut novel by Leeds-based writer and (full disclosure) Structo contributor S.J. Bradley. It follows the lives of an art therapist, Neriste, and a nursing assistant, Donna, working at a secure psychiatric facility. Both women seem intrigued by the rather sinister yet benign personality of Nathan, an inmate with a sadistic crime in his past. It appears Nathan’s manipulative and remorseless past behaviour resulted in his confinement at the unit rather than a conventional prison, but in comparison to the other patients he appears to be without psychiatric disorder. The plot of the book follows their developing relationships as Neriste and Donna each predict separate outcomes for the deceptive, or misunderstood, Nathan.
I enjoyed Brick Mother for its descriptions of the everyday, its realistic characters and well observed dialogue. It brings to life grimy amusement arcades, greasy cafes and worn-out offices. The miserable repetition of the formality, the cliché of bureaucracy brought to life from this kind of institutional environment. I read it with the distinct feeling the author had some kind of insider knowledge of a similar unit. Moments of tension are well described, but Bradley often dedicates just as much description to the banal; whether looking for a pencil, squeezing past a chair in a cramped room or a bus journey to work, the characters open up their lives to the reader, even in their most mundane moments. Whilst for some this might serve to slow the novel’s pace down, delaying the action, I can believe the frustration of the banal mirrors the atmosphere of the hospital and the stagnation of the main characters’ careers. Either way it is intentional. The blurb describes “… a place where doors are kept locked, where staff carry panic alarms, and where even a pen has to be treated as a weapon.”
Bradley quotes Love’s Executioner by Irwin D. Yalom, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, as influences. Brick Mother reminded me of writers like Jenn Ashworth and Zoe Lambert for its tone which is urban, northern and authentic.
Brick Mother was published in 2014 by Dead Ink Books. You can find out more, and buy a copy, at their website.