by Sam Hayes
Reviewed by Gary McMahon
Having only ever encountered the writing of Sam Hayes through her short story in issue 1 of Fusing Horizons, Diversion End, I approached this, her debut novel, with great interest. The short story was a good one--certainly good enough to make me want to catch this novel, in any case--but in no way prepared me for what I was about to read.
Without giving too much away, the basic story of Out Of Mind is as follows: Katrina, a mental patient, escapes from the institution in which she is restrained, and sets off to visit her childhood friend, Mackenzie. When the pair are reunited the secrets of their shared history are slowly revealed, and little by little we are let in on the nightmare that Mackenzie's life is, was, and always has been, and given a peek into her personal abyss.
The main character is the damaged Mackenzie, but we are told her story through the eyes of Katrina, a woman who has her own personal demons. The narrative quickly shifts through first person to third and then back again, and there are numerous flashbacks inserted without warning throughout. This technique is at first quite confusing but once the rhythm of the story grabs you it serves to make the whole thing highly compulsive. To be honest, I really did have trouble putting this book down once it had slipped under my skin; the storyline is compelling, perfectly paced, and the piecemeal manner in which it is revealed pulls you deeper into the bleak yet heartbreakingly hopeful world of the characters.
And it is these characters that make the book sing.
Hayes has done a magnificent job in making the reader care about and empathise with deeply flawed, and to be honest initially quite unsympathetic people. By the end of the book, I desperately wanted Mackenzie's life to be better, and for her to find some kind of happiness. I won't reveal the big secret that hangs between these two troubled women, but its effect is quietly devastating (even though I guessed it quite early on).
Hayes style is simple, direct and understated, yet holds a stark poetry all of its own. Some of the imagery is beautifully done, and the whole thing rings with a brutal honesty. I don't know if Sam Hayes has first hand experience of mental illness, but her book reads as if she does. It is raw, uncompromising, and, above all, true. Real. I read the final chapters with genuine shivers of emotion coursing up and down my spine, and the very satisfying conclusion contains just enough hope to make worthwhile the tough journey Mackenzie has taken.
In short, this is a brilliant novel, and I honestly can't recommend it highly enough. It has all the elements I look for in a story: honesty, beauty, horror and a psychologically believable resolution.
I look forward to reading whatever Sam Hayes produces next.
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