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Book Review: Jäntti, S. (2012) Bringing Home Madness: The Multiple Meanings of Home in Janet Frame’s ‘Faces in the Water’, Bessie Head’s ‘A Question of Power’ and Lauren Slater’s ‘Prozac Diary’.

By Saara Jäntti



Jäntti aims to intersect madness, feminism(s) and the home in three texts (named in the book title) which recall varying degrees of autobiography for Frame, Head and Slater.  Her methodology is worthy of consideration; Jäntti draws on Merleau-Ponty’s work on phenomenology to orientate her research to the lived subjectivity as direct experience, and also Foucault’s ideas of subjectivity constructed through discourse. Jäntti does this in recognition that neither Merleau-Ponty nor Foucault offer sufficient scaffold to support her close reading.  I think there is a small omission in that Head and Frame’s texts occupy a colonial/postcolonial space given their respective South African/New Zealand contexts, and while some small reference is made throughout to a postcolonial body of work, this could have been more  solidly cited, perhaps even in the methodology. A postcolonial reading would continue to reassess meanings of home, madness and the relationship to psychiatry as a product of Western, masculinised, Imperial thought that Jäntti has begun to unsettle.

There are links to praxis, perhaps exemplified in the section on Frame’s text titled ‘Home in a handbag’.  This section describes the way in which Frame’s protagonist, Istina, sees that a woman also in the psychiatric institution she is admitted to carries her belongings in a handbag and this bag becomes the container of her home.  It contains the sewing she works on and comes to represent the personal and private spheres otherwise unobtainable in the institutional space. Anyone who has worked in a psychiatric institution will recognise a truth in this character and will have seen the men or women who come to operate their home world in the same mobile way, and who by turn come to be seen as hoarding, obsessive or paranoid.

Jäntti’s treatment of Slater’s ‘Prozac Diary’ brings to a more familiar time and place and highlights a number of tensions in Slater’s narrative; the reliance on Prozac to feel well, while simultaneously the wellness is underwritten by a sense of disenfranchisement. This is referred to by Jäntti as a shift in identity, as well as a new home, from ‘an, old illness-based identity and a new self that does not seem compatible’ (Jäntti, 2012, p.235).  With this last text we see Jäntti taking an increasingly fluid idea of home which begins to include a sense of self-hood, and an experience of health as a place of dwelling. On first reading this is probably the least applicable section to mental health praxis in one sense, in that here there is a more literary engagement with metaphor, however, by re-engaging a phenomenological perspective we quickly see how the lived subjectivity of dwelling becomes a significant form of knowing neglected in the treatment milieu. How at home in ourselves are we when living in a chemically altered state?


Key Themes:

  • Home

Reference: Saara, Jäntti. 2012. Book Review: Jäntti, S. (2012) Bringing Home Madness: The Multiple Meanings of Home in Janet Frame’s ‘Faces in the Water’, Bessie Head’s ‘A Question of Power’ and Lauren Slater’s ‘Prozac Diary’.. Jyväskylä:University of Jyväskylä, 2012


Mr William Penson
Date Review Submitted: Monday 21st January 2013