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Submitted Literature

Breath in the Dark

By Jane Hersey


This is a simply stunning book. It is moving, emotive and raises crucial issues regarding children and young people who act in a caring role in the UK. This caring role may not only be for mental health issues of course, but also a range of physical health problems. The profound physical, psychological and social impacts that this role can have on young people is starkly presented in this autobiography.

Jane opens the novel as a 6 year old caring for her mother, who suffers from eating disorders, diabetes and what seems to be severe depression, treated with amphetamines that Jane begs the doctor for. From the outset, Jane is isolated, uncared for (not least by her desperately unwell mother, but also by anyone in a safeguarding role and by family members) and unable to enjoy, engage in or even acknowledge any normal childhood activities. Her entire world, her entire self, is consumed by her mother's needs, in the same way her mother consumes vast quantities of food. The novel moves through to Jane's late teens, as she struggles with the integration into work and social after such a lengthy time isolated and in a strangely dependant relationship with her mother. The narrative also examines Jane's own developing difficult relationship with food.

Jane also experiences physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, making this book important reading for anyone working in safeguarding, or indeed with service users who also have dependants. Of course, the vast majority of parents with mental health difficulties are more than Good Enough parents - but for the minority who are not, their physical, psychological and emotional needs very much need to be explored and addressed in a manner which is sensitive to the child's attachment to the parent, fears of harm coming to that parent, and restrictions on their own development.

The narrative voice is stilted, hesitant and narrow in focus - but this does not impede the reading of this book. Indeed, I would suggest that such hesitancy mirrors the stilted nature of Jane's own emotions, not to mention her ability to cognitively process her emotions and her linguistic ability to speak her about her feelings and experiences.

I found myself both moved and haunted by this book, which ends abruptly. A key text for clinicians, students and carers and parents themselves.

Key Themes:

  • Child and Adolescent Carers

Significant Quotes / Pages

"Settling down on the bed, stroking the plump, still body, watching my mother's face just to make sure she was still breathing, as a six year old, that was all I wanted. Not toys or chocolates or comforts; just to know my mother was still alive was enough" (p. 1)

Reference: Jane, Hersey. 2012. Breath in the Dark. Matador, 2012


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 29th May 2012