Nearest thing to crazy by Elizabeth Forbes is a psychological drama set in rural Worcestershire. The story begins with Ellie moving to Worcestershire to seemingly work on her novel. According to Ellie, she likes to place herself in the middle of her plots and this is what she wants to do here as well. It is narrated by Cassandra who finds she does not feel quite right about Ellie and the isolation that follows her when she tries to find out more about this author that has pushed her way into her friends’ circle. It is a story that talks about the trials in a marriage, the rural UK life and most importantly, mental health.
In the narration, Cassandra has previously suffered from a nervous breakdown, which landed her in a mental asylum. Having recovered and now settled comfortably in Worcestershire with her husband and her daughter who is away at university, she seems to be living the peaceful, content life. However, the arrival of the flamboyant Ellie throws everything off and Cassandra finds herself spiraling fast into what appears to be another nervous breakdown.
To me, the story was more about the tag that a mental health patient carries than Cassandra’s married life. It appears that once you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, it becomes your identity. People in your life and around your life respond to you always keeping in mind that you have or had a mental health problem. Everyone tiptoes around you like you are a bomb that can go off anytime. Unlike say, a cancer survivor, who 10 years later can possibly shake off the tag; a mental health patient does not. It seems that your people wait for the next time you start showing signs, behave (even before you start showing these signs) according to a preset reaction pattern and then when you do have that breakdown, they are quick to respond, “Well, I knew it!”; “It was bound to happen”; “She was always crazy”, or some such thing.
Nearest thing to crazy is about Cassandra’s spiral into a breakdown because people around her considered her fragile, insecure, and unable to cope because she has had a nervous breakdown in her past, because she was once unable to cope with pressures. And because her world believes that she cannot cope, she finds herself truly unable to cope when things start going horribly wrong in her life! It is like a self – fulfilling prophecy.
The book was well written from Cassandra’s point of view, with some glimpses of Ellie’s thought processes and showed sensitivity towards mental health. However, Ellie, who is the second narrator, and who is also quite clearly going through a mental health issue herself has been ignored. I would have liked to hear more from Ellie, to understand her better. But I guess it was Cassandra’s story and not Ellie’s.
Overall, I would recommend this book to people just to understand what they take away from it.