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Poppy Shakespeare: A Novel
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Poppy Shakespeare: A Novel

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  957 Ratings  ·  101 Reviews
The most extraordinary look at madness since One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Highly original and darkly funny, Clare Allan's debut novel explores the relationship between N., a patient in a mental institution, and Poppy Shakespeare, a new and disturbingly 'sane' arrival who finds herself having to feign mental illness in order to be released.

There are 25 residents at the
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book has a really interesting look into the mental health system, a notoriously underfunded and misunderstood sector of health care. N has been a part of the system since she was little, which she states is destiny, because all of her family before her was ill as well. One day she is selected to guide a new patient, Poppy, who believes there is nothing wrong with her mentally. As the book progresses, N gives a very honest look into how mental health is so poorly understood and how the syste ...more
Jo Bradford
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to get into this book, but I'm glad I stayed with it. The first person dialect is distracting at first, but I really felt like I got to know the main character 'N' through her unique perspective. I've read several books recently where character point of view affects the outcome and you question the honesty of their narrative, but here there is no question of how genuine N's storytelling is; even if she has a warped view of events, it is clear that she believes everything she s ...more
seanat (elka)
Nov 07, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
In the unusual position of preferring the tv adaptation of this, which I really enjoyed, rather than the book. Not sure I would have continued with it if I hadn't watched the dramatisation and known where it was going.

It's a great idea, a satirical look at the mental health system where the world is divided into 'dribblers' and 'sniffs',from the viewpoint of N, who was a 'dribbler' before she was born.
Poppy Shakespeare is thrown into the system when she fails a personality test and has to prove
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book, fiction, 2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frank, amusing and dark, I thought this book was a good read for anyone interested in mental health. I found the writing style very frustrating at first, as it's not often you read a book written in anything but eloquent prose. But once I got used to it I found that the style really made the book. It just wouldnt have been so frank and funny if it wasnt written the way that N thinks. It's hard to know where reality ends and where N's world begins, or whether she is even ill at all. Working in me ...more
Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in or knowledge of mental health issues
Shelves: stories
I'm giving this book four stars in my opinion (I thought about giving it 5!) but its not for everyone. Its a particular sort of portrayal of life within and around a mental health unit in the UK, written from the point of view of one of the day patients. You know how sometimes you read a first hand accout (like A Million Little Pieces) and wonder how on earth the person could have written this? Well this is a book which will NOT leave you asking that! Its a fantastic read but you've have to be w ...more
James Askari
The novel is a satire on the Blairite reforms of in-patient mental health, which forced hospitals to show they were producing good results (making the mad less mad against a benchmark of the non-admitted) in order to maintain funding and secure 'beacon' status (and so a degree of autonomy). To what lengths would put-upon but essentially idealistic doctors go to keep on offering care?

The novel is not narrated, though, from a doctor's viewpoint but that of a patient, a woman in her early thirties
Jul 22, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There really wasn't much in this novel that I could say I enjoyed.

It's narrated by a day-patient of the Dorothy Fish, a mental institution in London. She writes in exactly the same way you'd imagine her to speak, and this took a lot of getting used to, particularly her constant use of the phrase "would of/could of" instead of the proper "would have/could have". This is blatant nit-picking, of course, since it's not Allan's language, but the narrator's. Still, I was really annoyed, and the voice
Mar 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Claire Allen's first novel and was shortlisted for The Guardian First Book award . Subsequently it was made into a drama on Channel 4 (where else) ? It is an angry, funny and often frustrating polemic on the state of mental health services in the 1990"s. The narrator a woman called N is that for narrator or butter, guides Poppy, the new inmate and the reader through the various, often incomprehensible layers of the Abaddon ( Abandon) mental health facility in North London, although for s ...more
Feb 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-read
An enjoyable send up of mental health institutions, bureaucracy generally, and government. The narrator, N, is a patient or "client" of a day mental health hospital -- she spends her days there, but lives in her own apartment. The story she tells is of a new patient named Poppy Shakespeare who arrives in the hospital insisting that nothing is wrong and that she's being unfairly forced into treatment. The narrative style is somewhat stream-of-consciousness (and a "mentally ill" consciousness at t ...more
Zulaikha Sizarifalina
I found this book at e@curve and bought two. One for me and one for Shima Scarlett. As I expected, both of us love to book. If you are familiar with my choice of books, you might have already realized that 50% of the book I bought are those that I can relate with. so with this book, it is about being in a psychiatric ward and surrounded with people with various exceptional problems. If your really want to know what happens in this type of closed and guarded vicinity , you must not only read, GIR ...more
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, audiobooks
Been listening to this audiobook whilst walking. Due to the frequent swearing, was unsuitable for in-car listening.Really don't know what to make of this book. Kept expecting a 'reveal' about the Dorothy Fish (the institution that the narrator, N, and the eponymous character attend), which never really came about. It was the 26 inmates, each having a name representing a letter of the alphabet that made me expect a plot twist. For instance, Poppy Shakespeare was admitted only when Pollyanna left. ...more
Kasey Jueds
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I also found this book, which I'd never have heard of otherwise, through Nick Hornby's review of it in Shakespeare Wrote for Money. Thank you Nick Hornby! I loved Poppy Shakespeare; I'd expected to find it funny, but not laugh out loud funny (which it is--I embarrasssed myself a couple of times by giggling on the train). It's also incredibly smart and at times incredibly moving, and honestly like no other book I've ever read before. Part of that is the narrator's voice, which is a hilarious Nort ...more

A brilliant book that pulls no punches in its biting assessment of Mental Health services in the UK.

I did listen to much of this on audio though did also read parts. The benefit of audio was the flavour of N's London accent that was well executed by the reader.

I even found myself falling back into London slang myself after a few days with it, you do know what I mean? :)

I have great admiration for Clare Allan drawing on her own experiences as a 'service user' as well as continuing to write on m
This is an extraordinarily difficult book to review. The story is difficult to read because it is drowning in hopelessness. It is also told in first person narration by a mentally ill woman who has a strong North London accent. So not easy vocabulary to follow. But it is, according to reviewers, a sadly accurate depiction of the sorry state of mental health "care" in 1990s UK. In a nutshell, it explores how society determines whether or not a person might be "mad", To use British vernacular. I t ...more
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Written with acerbic wit and grim irony, Poppy Shakespeare satirises the current situations regarding the health system, mental health treatment and institutions. The dark humour of a patient being involuntarily committed after having taken a 'personality assessment', then having to prove she's mad to get legal help to try to prove she's sane, has elements of the absurd, and would be absurd - if it wasn't terribly close to how in reality government departments are running services these days. If ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2* 'cause. Do you know what I'm saying? On account of..

Hate giving bad reviews. Especially for a book on a subject matter so dear to me.

However, found this one tough to get through because I could not stand the narrator's voice. Simple as that. I'm sure some will get on with it fine, I just couldn't. The constant repetition of annoying phrases made me resort to skim reading the final 200 pages.

Dialogue is a mess in places. Quotes within quotes with 'cause and 'cept and plenty of other ' thrown
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
It's been compared to a cross between Catch-22 and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I'd add that it's Faulknerian and Kafkaesque.

Not an easy read, and not flawless (it's not exactly what I'd call "action-packed," for instance), but a genuinely new take on the mental institution genre from the perspective of a lifer.

N's voice is REAL. It's infiltrated my thoughts, and I keep finding myself saying, "Do you know what I am saying?" Poppy herself is not as compelling as I thought she would be, but
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-loans
I picked this book up thinking that it would be a nice change from what I normally read. It was about a hospital for mentally ill patients and how one character fights to show how she is not sick in the head and should not be there. It was okay. It was also another book that I did not have to pick up and read, but was there. The writing style is broken up, as if it took on a patients brain skills. As the sentences are hard to follow at times and some are repetitive. Which was kinda good. However ...more
I enjoyed it less as I continued reading- at first I thought "wow, what a neat take on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", but after a while the voice of the narrator started to wear me down, and began distracting me from the book itself. And this is probably due to the mental issues of the narrator, but parts of the book make no sense. Why was Poppy institutionalized in the first place? How did the narrator get released? I think if the book were shorter (and I love Russian Classics, so coming fro ...more
Feb 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Bloody brilliant.
I actually listened to the audio version over the coure of a couple weeks (during my commute). I think it would have been exhausting to *read* read (a reviewer concurred: "There's a profusion of names, colloquialisms, and stream of thought sentences in this novel, and they leave you exhausted.") And, now that I have heard the story and have all the pictures in my head I would distrust a TV / film adaptation to get it right. (Although I did read a good review of the BBC TV adapt
Jan 06, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Toen ik bekend maakte dat ik wou meedoen met de Verbeelding Book Challenge kreeg ik heel wat tips, waaronder dit boek. Ik sta open voor tips en aanraders van anderen maar heb nu nog maar eens gemerkt dat ik liever mijn eigen keuze lees. Dit boek lag mij niet. Ik vermoed dat de vertaling ook wel meespeelt en dat ik het beter in het Engels gelezen had. Het verhaal speelde natuurlijk ook een rol want er gebeurde helemaal niets... Verschillende bladzijden vol tekst om tot niets te komen of toch niet ...more
Jen McGovern
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an interesting look into what really makes someone worthy of being put in a mental hospital. i only found out after reading it that clare allan had been in a "day hospital" herself for 10 years, but that explains how she manages to so clearly convey what it's like. the characters are easy to picture and also unsettlingly easy to relate to (a little freaky to feel yourself relating to a "crazy person"). definitely makes a psych major start to diagnose herself while reading. note that it is britis ...more
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't like it at first due to the writing style, the fact that it is not particularly 'pc' and that it was a little sterotypical, but it grew on me once I got over that. The writer seems to be making a point.

I was hoping for a better ending. I wanted it to go on a bit longer to see what happened. Saying that, it was a page turner which is why I rated it as 'I really liked it'. I might have to pass it on to a mental health advocate to get their opinion!

In the meantime, I will be watching the
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tells the story of a woman in a psychiatric institute, in their opinion there is nowhere to go, they wouldn't like to get back in normal life. However one day Poppy arrives and she is the one who wants to get out of this institute. To be honest I really don't know what it's like to be in and how these people think but I can imagine the writer knows a lot about these people. The book hooked me and although I find it hard to go on with it, I finally succeed in it, never regret it though.
May 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mental-health
When I first started to read this, I hated it. I couldn't bare the way it was written. But as I read on I learned to really enjoy the writing style, like the main character was talking right at me.

I can imagine anybody who's not from the UK reading this and getting a little confused as it does include slang language but it's amazing.

The story is so clever, so hilarius and so realistic. The view of the mental health services is put perfectly, anyone who has experiences with it will enjoy it, as
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Struggled a little with the style of writing at first but got used to it ... A dark and really quite scary look at mental health services and care in the uk .. I'd hope it was far fetched but reading a bit about the author Clare Allan and her experiences I don't think it is ... Dark read but worth reading ... Quite a shocking outcome ... Although I started to see it coming as the book progresses but no less shocking.
Patrick Barrett
Mar 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved it! The sense of desperate lives being stretched thin to cover cracks, of people having to invent and believe stories that rationalise a world grown pathetically narrow and hopeless, and of sadness being a fundamental condition around which little victories are achieved and understood, rings true and is tremendously affecting.
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: zoe pratten
one flew over the cuckoos nest for modern times. This book made me laugh out loud all the way through but managed to leave me feeling a bit hollow. Not that this should reflect badly on it... its best to read this in the north london accent its written in, a bit like irvine welsh books, its just easier in the end. i read it in 3 days and it was well worth the time and effort.
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