Hysteria: The Disturbing History by Andrew Scull: Book Review

hysteriaI picked up Hysteria: The Disturbing History when I went to visit the Bedlam Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on 8 October 2016 with my writing partner, K.F. Goodacre. Due to the fact that asylums feature in The Mayor, I was hoping to learn a little bit more about the treatment of the patients in the hospital during the 18th century, attitudes to madness during those times, patient recovery (if any) and also about the hospital itself. However, the exhibition was significantly more art and literature-based than I was expecting and I wasn’t able to glean much that was informative or useful, so I was hoping that this book – along with a few others that I picked up in the shop – might fill in the gaps.

This book is very well-written and I found Andrew Scull’s narrative style engaging, despite having to refer to the glossary upon occasion to look up words I’ve never heard of (e.g. ‘parturition’, or childbirth). Starting with the first use of the term ‘hysteria’ in 1602 up until it’s disappearance from modern-day diagnoses, Scull gives a relatively short historical account addressing changing understanding, treatments and attitudes of the medical profession over a long period of time. He also explores how doctors struggled to pin hysteria down to physiological causes, the notion of a mental illness at the time being virtually non-existent. One particular chapter about the ‘shell-shock’ suffered by soldiers during World War I being thought of in terms of ‘male-hysteria’ I found particularly interesting given my perception of hysteria as being thought of only as a ‘woman’s disease’, linked to their ‘inferior’ biology and repressed sexuality; a tool used by men to diminish them and write off their emotions and experiences as nonsense.

Certainly this book does dwell on this latter aspect of the disease quite a bit. If you’re a woman and hadn’t felt before that being called ‘hysterical’ was insulting, you certainly will after reading this book! There’s plenty of gory, upsetting detail as to some of the more brutal treatments of hysterical patients contained within these pages, including female genital mutilation and Freud’s, quite frankly, disgusting treatment of his sexually abused patient Ida Bauer. Surprisingly, the opposite end of the spectrum for treatment – manual genital stimulation – that famously led to the invention of the vibrator – is completely ignored. Scull does not even go so far as to briefly acknowledge this particular avenue of history. I found this very odd considering how Scull also went to great lengths to illustrate how some doctors felt victims of hysteria were taking ‘flight into illness’ for the secondary gains that a sick role could provide.

One of the art installations at the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition: Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond

It’s actually in relation to this last point that I dropped my rating from five stars to four. In the conclusion to his book, Scull talks about the disappearance of the disease of hysteria, and how it has since been redefined as post-traumatic stress disorder, post-natal depression etc. However, rather than talking about a more developed scientific understanding of mental illnesses and changing cultural attitudes towards women, Scull then spends an inordinate amount of time almost discrediting those who claim to suffer from mental illnesses to conclude that hysteria (in it’s more stereotypical, hypochondriac form) has never really disappeared, citing Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and chronic-fatigue syndrome as particular sources of contention. This gave me a bad taste in my mouth, as whilst our modern-day understanding of mental illness is by no-means perfect, ever-changing, and often driven by the profits made by Big Pharma, simply dismissing claims of mental illness as being all in the victim’s head is completely counter-productive. The very definition of a mental illness is that it is in the victim’s head, but that doesn’t mean that their suffering is not real or unworthy of treatment. To automatically assume that the patient is making it up for attention is as pervasively dangerous as it was 200 years ago.

Despite Scull’s conclusion being a bit of a let down, overall I really enjoyed this book. I do not read non-fiction very often so to keep me engaged for 200-odd pages is an achievement in itself.

Verdict: 4/5

S.E. Berrow

Andrew Scull presently resides as a faculty member at UC San Diego, specialising in researching the development of modern-day psychiatric medicine. A list of his works and courses are available on the UCSD website:


Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond is an exhibition currently running until 15 January 2017 at the Wellcome Collection in London:



Nod by Adrian Barnes: Book Review

nod-adrian-barnes“In theory it was, around now, Literature. Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.” – Susan Sto-Helit, Soul Music (1994)

This nugget of wisdom from the late Sir Terry Pratchett is the first thing that came to mind once I’d turned the final page of Adrian Barnes’ refreshingly original take on a zombie apocalypse, Nod.

The concept is fantastic: protagonist Paul wakes up one morning to discover that the whole world, including his wife Tanya, did not sleep the night before. The very significant few who did manage to sleep, Paul included, all dreamed the same golden dream of a magnificent light. The next night comes and still no sleep. The world begins to panic. Scientists are baffled. The media is in full-blown scaremongering mode. Then comes the next night. And the next. And the next. Gradually over the course of approximately one month, those who cannot sleep fall victim to the side-effects of absolute sleep-deprivation: lank hair; poor hygiene; irritability; decreased motor skills, hallucinations; psychosis; and eventually, death. Society breaks down, and those who lived on the fringes of the old world step up to herald in the new.

In Nod, the apocalypse comes not in the form of a cataclysmic event, but something far more sinister. In this sense I was reminded strongly of one of my favourite books, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, which also depicts the end of the world in the form of gradual starvation and decay (oh, and killer plants, but they’re mostly an afterthought). Suffering myself from a severe lack of sleep whilst reading Nod on my arduous daily commute, I found myself getting a headache, so easily was I able to put myself in the characters’ positions. Like The Day of the Triffids, there is something so creepy and unsettling about the end of the world coming along in such an understated, chillingly relatable way.

But — and this is a big But — despite a great concept and being so fantastically well-written e.g.

Life’s a scab, and it’s our nature to pick at it until it bleeds.

Nod had one fatal flaw: it was boring.

Sounds like a fun game…

After civil order breaks down and Paul well and truly finds himself in the land of Nod, it soon becomes clear to the reader that there isn’t much of a plot. Paul embodies the ultimate ‘hood ornament’ character archetype as he is driven around from one crazed group of Awakened to another, presumably so that Barnes can showcase as much of his apocalyptic landscape as possible. The etymology theme that permeates, nay dominates the novel, whilst objectively interesting, seems a bit tacked on and doesn’t really fit or help explain anything. Lastly, if you’re expecting some kind of payoff or answers to any of your questions, prepare to be disappointed. Paul is possibly one of the least inquisitive characters I’ve ever read and seems to feel no desire to learn how Nod happened, why, or even how to resolve it.

Nod‘s author, Adrian Barnes has spoken of how he wished to explore the fragility of civil order versus disobedience in Nod. For me personally, I think he failed; this was not clear enough. I interpreted Nod to be more an exploration of the use and history of words that just happened to be set in the midst of a rather bizarre and surreal zombie apocalypse. Whilst I cannot stress enough how beautifully this book is written, I just can’t help but feel disappointed that such an original concept was seemingly wasted on trying to be too ‘literary’. The end result is a disjointed, meandering novel that I found really quite unsatisfying to read. I am thrilled to be moving on to something else.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

S.E. Berrow

For more information on Adrian Barnes and Nod, please visit his (short!) blog:


There’s a really interesting video where he talks about the role the city of Vancouver played in Nod and offers a bit more background on some of the locations.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Book Review

CinderThis one had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, largely due to its futuristic concept of a cyborg Cinderella. Instead of the dainty little ash girl we are so familiar with, the Cinderella of this story (Linh Cinder) is a strong-minded and intelligent mechanic. She is also the ward of a jealous and neglectful stepmother who, along with her daughters, is dependent on Cinder to make cash. Cinder also happens to be a cyborg – a human with mechanically enhanced limbs and brain interface – and is thus seen as a second-class citizen by most inhabitants of New Beijing.

When delving into faerietale retellings, I expect to read something completely different and unique whilst still maintaining a sense of the familiarity and spirit of the original. In this sense, Cinder succeeds. Unfortunately, a few of the ideas are not developed enough. Why, for example, are cyborgs seen as second-class citizens when they’re effectively just humans who have been injured and patched up by science? This is never explained. How have the Lunars come to be so powerful and why do they want to go to war with Earth? Also, despite being set in China (where the earliest known version of the tale originates), there is very little evidence of Chinese culture and customs here; it all seems very westernised, in a manner that doesn’t seem realistic despite being set a significant way into the future. The plot is also incredibly predictable, to the point that you can guess the ending within about ten pages (and I’m not talking about the traditional storyline here).

Nevertheless I’m really intrigued by the concept and considering that this is very obviously part of a series (entitled The Lunar Chronicles), the world and ideas contained herein may yet be developed further in future books. I fully intend to read the follow-up, Scarlet, when I eventually manage to get my hands on it.

Verdict: 2/5

S.E. Berrow

For more information on Marissa Meyer, Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles please check out the author’s website:


A Series of Mini-Book Reviews

As some of my readers may have noticed, I’ve fallen rather behind with my book reviews. Essentially I had a few problems collating my thoughts for one or two of them, and then the next thing I knew, I’d read six more. As of today I am 10 books behind, so I think you’ll agree it’s got to a point where I’ve no hope of catching up. I have therefore chosen to write a series of mini-reviews to bring myself up to speed and talk about all the great – and not so great – books I’ve read since my last review (Under The Skin by Michel Faber).  Then we should be back to business as usual.

So, here it goes:

Life And DeathLife And Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephanie Meyer

Originally written as bonus material for the 10th Anniversary of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling Twilight saga, Life And Death quickly expanded into a full-length novel in which the sexes of all the characters are swapped over. Instead of the human Bella, we have Beaufort (or Beau, as he understandably prefers to be called), and instead of the vampire Edward, we have Edythe, and so on. Stephenie Meyer said that she wrote the book in response to criticism that Bella is too much of a Mary-Sue, damsel-in-distress-type character, and her belief that if the sexes were swapped it would make no difference to the love story. It’s an interesting point, but falls flat, given that Edward/Edythe’s aggressive, controlling treatment of Bella/Beau is still as unhealthy as it ever was. Stephenie Meyer also relished the opportunity to change words and scenes that had bothered her since publication, and to add in a few extra conversations that she wished she had written in the first place. These were not needed, and bogged down an already bloated book.

Verdict: 1/5

GreyGrey by E.L. James

Sadly there is very little, indeed nothing to be praised about E.L. James’s rehash of the eponymous first book in her Fifty Shades trilogy: Grey is essentially the same story as Fifty Shades of Grey but told from Christian’s point of view. For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last four years, Christian Grey is the multi-millionaire dominant who introduces protagonist Anastasia Steele to the dark and seductive world of Bondage, Discipline and Sadomasochism (BDSM). Clunky, overwrought and just plain badly written – a quick Google search will direct you to any number of cringe-worthy examples usually involving an overly ‘agreeable’ part of the male anatomy – Grey offers a disturbing insight into the sociopathic, deranged car crash that is Christian Grey’s brain. It is an insight that apparently many fans ‘asked and asked and asked’ for, but most certainly didn’t need.

I hated this book so much that I was forced to abandon it halfway through. It is so badly written, so angry, so vile, violent, un-erotic and unoriginal (even the very idea of a retelling from the perspective of the male love interest was nicked from its source material – Stephenie Meyer’s unpublished Midnight Sun) that it is going to be the first book that I have ever had to rate…

Verdict: 0/5

H Is For HawkH Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald

As voracious a reader as I am, non-fiction is generally not something I read for leisure; Helen Macdonald’s beautifully written, touching memoir H Is For Hawk is most definitely the exception to the rule. I found that I simply had to read it after witnessing the majesty and deadly grace of the hawks, owls and falcons during a trip to Leeds Castle with my boyfriend over Christmas. A gorgeously written introspection on grief, the retreat into nature and the predatory ‘otherness’ of birds, H Is For Hawk is also a sensitive biography about T.H. White – the tortured genius famous for penning The Once And Future King – whose lesser known work The Goshawk the author finds she identifies with strongly, despite its terrible advice on hawking. I absolutely adored this book; I recommend it especially to those who generally dislike non-fiction as much as I do, but wish to foray into it.

Verdict: 5/5


That’s all I have the energy for right now. More mini-book reviews to come!

Take care,
S.E. Berrow

If, despite my negative reviews, you would like more information on Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James, please visit the below links:


Helen Macdonald doesn’t have a website, but she is on Twitter often and is really fun to follow; she posts such beautiful hawking pictures:


For example, here is one of her with Mabel, the titular hawk in H Is For Hawk:

Helen and Mabel
So much cute in one picture ♥

Under The Skin by Michel Faber: Book Review

Under The SkinMichel Faber’s debut novel Under The Skin is a reviewer’s nightmare, because it’s one of those books that you cannot really adequately cover without giving too much away. The book defies all categorisation, masquerading as a thriller, science-fiction and horror all at once. There are also elements of allegory and satire woven throughout. Suffice to say, as far as the plot is concerned, it is about a woman called Isserly who is obsessed with driving around the Scottish highlands and picking up well-muscled male hitchhikers. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill sexed-up thriller soon descends into a malebolge of unsettling and repugnant horrors that stole my sleep and left me unnerved for days.

The first half of the book – where revelations are slowly drip-fed to the reader – is the strongest. Michel Faber does a fantastic job of ratcheting up the suspense and the ever-permeating sense of dread by revealing just enough to send the reader’s imagination running wild without fully satisfying their questions. This makes Under The Skin compulsively readable, despite the repetitive events of Isserly’s daily grind; find a hitchhiker, pick him up, find a hitchhiker, pick him up…

Comparatively, the latter half of the novel does not maintain this momentum. Climaxing roughly in the middle with a truly horrific midnight hunt in the dark, after this I had the facts necessary to piece together enough of the truth that my interest waned. A couple of latter attempts on Michel Faber’s part to gross me out failed, and whilst some of the debate surrounding speciesism, classicism and what makes us human were truly interesting, it didn’t quite seem to fit with the ambiguously eerie and unsettling beginning and had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It is also worth noting that if you – like me – are the kind of reader who looks up words they don’t understand, there are a couple of made-up words thrown in here that I would advise you not to investigate; words like ‘icpathua’ and ‘vodsel’. Never forget that the web is dark and full of spoilers…

The Woman
Scarlett Johansson stars as Isserly’s equivalent – The Woman – in Under The Skin (2013)

Despite these quite major sticking points, I really did enjoy Under The Skin. There’s definitely no other book like it, and its opaque ambiguity and downright weirdness is what makes it simultaneously so fascinating and frustrating to read.

Shortly after I finished reading Under The Skin, I watched the 2013 film of the same name starring Scarlett Johansson. I thought the film – which is only a very loose adaption of the book – was just as good, if not better; a fantastic transition from page to screen. Honestly, I would recommend both, so if you cannot bring yourself to read the book based on my rating, it’s definitely worth checking out the film.

Verdict: 3/5

S.E. Berrow

For more information on Michel Faber and Under The Skin (2013), please visit the below links:



Belated Birthday Blogging

How I Spend Money|Sarah Andersen
‘How I Spend Money’ by Sarah Andersen. Or, an unintentional biography of my life.

Last Tuesday marked the 27th anniversary of my birth. Having thrown a party for the last few years or so, this year I didn’t really feel like arranging anything, so just went for a nice breakfast at Bill’s with my boyfriend, the pair of us having booked the day off of work. I had blueberry pancakes with fruit, bacon and maple syrup and it was absolutely delicious. After that I dragged Mark to Waterstone’s, and somehow wound up with 6 new books to read and enjoy c/o Mark’s never-ending generosity and my own inability to control my spending. I actually think I own more unread books than read ones. This is either a very good thing, or a very bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Seeing as Mark had his weekly game of football, I then spent the evening with my best friend Cassie, cooking cheesy veggie risotto and watching Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race (my latest guilty pleasure). Cassie was also kind enough to deliver a beautiful handmade present from both herself and Kim (K.F. Goodacre): my actual wand from the Harry Potter universe.

Slytherin Pride
Slytherin Pride

Does anyone remember Pottermore? Ah, Pottermore… Everyone got so excited when it was first announced. Like many others of the ‘Harry Potter generation’, I signed up to be a Beta tester as soon as I could and was fortunate enough to be granted (very) early access. There’s some cool stuff on there, like extra little writing and character titbits uploaded every now and then by JK Rowling. Ultimately however, after I was sorted into my house, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The interactive book explorations, although beautifully illustrated, were simplistic and lacking in true content, plus the only book available was about two thirds of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The galleons system was pointless, because once you’d bought all your books, there wasn’t anything else you could buy except for a new cauldron that cut your potion brewing times in half. Potions-brewing was of course the only way you could earn House Points, along with spell casting which was extremely difficult and required another participant. Also, whilst you were able to adopt a pet (I adopted a black cat of course), you were not able to give it a name or anything fun like that. I’ve been led to understand it’s undergone a bit of an overhaul recently with a new version of the Sorting Hat quiz and a Patronus test coming soon, but I don’t think I’ll be going back there in a hurry.

Two really cool things did come out of Pottermore though. I got sorted into the Noble House of Slytherin – which came as a surprise to precisely no one – and I was assigned a wand:

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 21.16.01

According to JK Rowling, laurel wood and Unicorn hair are both difficult to turn to the Dark Arts, which is a bit annoying what with me being a Slytherin and destined to conquer the world and everything.

Back to my present, Cassie and Kim had the above wand made for me to the precise specification of laurel wood carved into a 14 1/4″ long wand, and it came with an apologetic letter from Ollivanders wrapped up in a Slytherin-green ribbon. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and has a little skull on top of it! This was meant not only to reflect my obsession with skulls, momento mori and general all-round gothiness, but also as a nod to one of my fictional characters, James Harding, who walks around with a cane that has a skull on the top containing his soul:

An excerpt from the letter:

I remember every wand I’ve ever created, but to my (perhaps prideful) embarrassment, yours was not carved by my hand. In June 1977, a work experience student by name of Severus Snape – whom I remember listening to banshee-like, wailing muggle music and wearing only black – made eight gothic designs out of my most expensive laurel. They were all very well-made to his credit, but distasteful to many of my customers (or their parents) at the time. I altered most of the designs to make them more conventional, but each time I tried with yours I got an unpleasant zap! I hope you are not put off by the carving. The wand seems proud of it.

Genius. It’s like, the most metal wand ever and I love it.

Thank you Cassie and Kim for buying my wand for me, and to Mark for spoiling me rotten on the day! Oh, and thank you Mr Garrick Ollivander of course for sending me the wand, and the late Severus Snape for carving it for me. Mr Rickman. R.I.P. ♥

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

If you wish to be sorted into your own Hogwarts house, head on over to Pottermore, and find more information about J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series at the below official websites:


Waterstone's display

2015: Year In Review

This is a ‘thing’ I do every year amongst my friends. As www.seberrow.com went live for the first time this year, I thought it only appropriate to share it with you here as well!

1. Album that surpassed all others:

Haven by Kamelot


An amazing follow-up to the compariatively mediocre Silverthorn, Haven is Kamelot’s second album featuring their new singer Tommy Karevik after Roy Khan (one of the greatest ever symphonic metal vocalists) was sadly forced to depart in 2011 due to mental health issues. Making full use of Tommy’s capacity for vocal acrobatics, Haven is a masterclass in songwriting that quickly rose to become one of my favourite albums ever, let alone the year.

Favourite tracks: ‘Insomnia’, ‘Citizen Zero’, ‘Veil of Elysium’, ‘Here’s To The Fall’

2. Most missed artists:

Emilie Autumn… come back to the music world, please, my love! Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival was not a thing that happened in my country, sadly.

Emilie Autumn The Devil's Carnival

3. Album that really surprised me:

Unknown by Rasputina, because it appeared out of frikkin’ nowhere and also deals with some extremely heavy personal stuff, which Rasputina never do. Also, for some reason, Melora sent me a second copy that I didn’t order, so it really did quite literally surprise me.

Unknown Rasputina

Favourite tracks: ‘Unicorn Horn Mounted’, ‘Sensed’, ‘Unknown’

4. Person I would most like to have tea with:

This ugly mug ♥


5. The things I’ve completely had enough of:

Being so Goddamned housepoor. I hope 2016 will be a bit easier in this respect as I’ve really struggled this year.

6. The thing I wish I had bought myself but didn’t:

It’s been a really expensive year this year buying things like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, fridges and whatnot, so there hasn’t really been anything I haven’t bought that I wanted or needed. I guess I wish I hadn’t bought quite so much chocolate for myself!

7. Page-turner:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

The Miniaturist cover

Brilliant book. Click here to read my 5/5 star review.

8. Album that stirred my soul:

Technically this album was released late last year (2014) but I only started listening to it in the first week of January 2015.

Black Widow by In This Moment

Black Widow In This Moment

The album just has such a huge, massive sound and Maria Brink’s entirely unique screaming-in-pitch vocal style hits such a primal core within me. It’s such a cathartic album about empowerment and standing up for and being yourself.

Favourite tracks: ‘Sex Metal Barbie’,’Big Bad Wolf’, ‘Sick Like Me’, ‘Bloody Creature Poster Girl’

9. Album that made me smile:

King of Kings by Leaves’ Eyes

King of Kings

It made me smile because it’s so frikkin’ good. Click here to read my review.

Favourite tracks: ‘King of Kings’, ‘Vengeance Venom’, ‘Blazing Waters’ (the latter has grown on me so much since I wrote that review, as I suspected it would!)

10. Most stylish person:

Emilie Autumn has got to be my winner this year for the uncharacteristically simple and positively gorgeous outfit she wore on the red carpet for the Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival premiere. I mean… look. Just look.

Emilie Autumn red carpet


11. Best ‘thing’:

My flat – which I moved into at the very beginning of the year – even if it has made me so very very poor (see above).

12. Favourite visual feast:

Starz’ TV series of Outlander!

Outlander Starz

13. Best fictional character since Sirius Black:

Jamie Fraser, brought to life by the incredible Sam Heughan in the TV series of Outlander. He was totally snubbed for a Golden Globe nomination this year after his powerful performance alongside Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe (both nominated and rightfully so) in the heartbreaking Season finale, ‘To Ransom A Man’s Soul’.

Jamie Fraser

14. Coolest rock star:

Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy fame (previously The Agonist) wins for the second year in a row for me. She absolutely smashed it at the Nightwish concert the other week (Arch Enemy were their support… I still need to write a review on this!). She is so unbelievably athletic on stage, plus she featured twice on Kamelot’s Haven as well (see above); it was good to hear her clean vocals again. Raise your horns for Alissa White-Gluz!

Alissa White-Gluz

15. Best gig:

Kamelot at the O2 Academy, Islington (14 March).

Kamelot O2 Academy


16. Most special moment:

Moving into my new flat, and also being invited to my friends Rachel and Greg’s wedding. It meant a lot to be invited and to have such a lovely time, after everything we’ve been through over the last decade. Thank you so much, Guys ♥ You’re beautiful together!

Rachel and Greg

17. Song of the year:

‘Insomnia’ by Kamelot

“When the night begins to fall, I hear a thousand voices call, chasing my insanity like a fly on the wall.”

18. Biggest achievement

Winning first place in a clay-pigeon shooting contest amongst seasoned shooters despite never before having shot a gun in my life!

19. Biggest regret

Je ne regrette rien.

20. New Year’s Resolutions

1. Lose a stone in weight (damn you, Christmas!)
2. Sort out finances so I’m not so incredibly housepoor every month
3. Successfully partake in Christmas 2016 i.e. actually send people Christmas cards and buy proper gifts for everyone to say thank you for their kindness and generosity in the Christmas just gone
4. Decorate my flat

Bonus! Instagram’s #2015Best Nine:

Instagram Best Nine

Happy New Year!


S.E. Berrow


For more information on items or people mentioned in this post, please click the below links.





Film & TV:



Note: The original ‘Year In Review’ structure and the vast majority of my questions were shamelessly stolen from a MySpace blog post written by the inimitable Darren Hayes many years ago. So old is it that I’m not even sure the post exists anymore (I can’t find it regardless)! You can find out more about Darren Hayes and his wonderful effervescent self here: