Set in a secure psychiatric unit, Brick Mother follows art therapist Neriste and care assistant Donna as they deal with some of the most troubled patients in an understaffed environment. Both are drawn to Nathan Rivers, an affable patient who committed a serious crime years ago but is now intent on rehabilitating himself into the community. Some don't think he's capable of rehabilitation but when there are ping-pong bureaucracies to deal with, logic gets lost.
Bradley evokes the alien setting of a psychiatric ward skilfully. The despair of both patients and staff comes across achingly well and the restraints that everyone's kept under feel almost claustrophobic for the reader. Particularly effective are the descriptions of Neriste's art therapy cabin, which serves as a metaphor for the unit as a whole.
I enjoyed this novel as a peek into another world. Occasionally, I struggled with the viewpoint switches but that's a personal thing. It's a very down-to-earth novel with touches of humour in amongst the despair and some characters you can really root for. It's certainly a book that's going to stay with me, not least for the last quarter where things pick up speed and explode. That said, the characters that have stayed with me aren't any of the protagonists but some of the additional patients trying their best to survive in a hostile world. Their despairs and hopes come across more clearly than anything else.
This book was read as part of the 'Women' reading challenge, details here.