Book Review : HELLSLEIGH by DC Brockwell


HELLSLEIGH AND THE HORRORS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION

Review by Renata Pavrey

“They say if you listen carefully, you can still hear the screaming. Because once you enter Hellsleigh, it will never let you leave.”

A parapsychologist gets into a scuffle with a local tramp on the roof of a derelict hospital. They both fall down to their deaths, following which the police unearth more bodies from within the abandoned premises. Hellsleigh was formerly a mental asylum, infamous for its century-old history of two psychiatric nurses who went around killing patients. In later years the hospital was engulfed in a fire. And over time it earned its reputation of being haunted. What exactly is the story of Hellsleigh? Why do people associated with it die? And what was a paranormal investigator doing on the roof covered in blood? Hellsleigh is an interesting supernatural thriller that takes the reader on a ride through the history of its namesake hospital, as we attempt to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Through his fictitious hospital, its past and present, author DC Brockwell raises pertinent questions and topics for discussion on the treatment of mental disorders. The back-and-forth narrative in Hellsleigh makes for an engaging reading experience. The novel begins with Dr. Fiske falling from the roof of the hospital, and as the story progresses we move forward as well as backward, to uncover the mysterious events of the introduction – an ending leading to a beginning. We learn how each of the deceased came to be where they were ultimately found, or at least the parts of them that were identified. A team of paranormal investigators undertaking a non-commissioned project, a group of university students partying in a restricted area, a reporter having his research catch up with his reality – the sequence of timelines, events, characters, historical context keep the reader on edge throughout.

Hellsleigh is a wonderfully constructed story. The supernatural elements are eerie and atmospheric, rather than gory and in-your-face. In a horrific as well as terrific storyline, Brockwell makes the reader consider who the real monsters are – the ghosts of the present or the people of the past. 

Like Brockwell, other authors have also addressed mental health issues through their dark fiction. The Focus Program by KT Dady is a sci-fi horror story that begins with the suicide of the protagonist. He is incorporated into the titular organization that aims to eliminate mental disorders by denying their existence on his death. Dady sensitively touches subjects like the ignorance of society and the denial of problems that are not overtly visible. Similarly, We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk is a medical horror novel focused on schizophrenia and an experimental drug that displaces hallucinations from the mind and sets the monsters free into the real world. 

Horror fiction addressing mental health offers a unique reading experience, by questioning society and the medical fraternity about where the actual horrors lie. In the minds of patients? Or in hospitals resorting to constant drugging to keep patients subdued? Or in societal rejection in terms of jobs and housing? October is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, and the month also celebrates Halloween. In an irony of sorts, mental health issues are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, or ignored and dismissed. The horrors an individual goes through within their own minds and society at large stresses the importance of education and sensitivity in the addressal and treatment of mental health illnesses.

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