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Submitted Literature


By Patrick McGrath


“Spider”, one of McGrath’s most well-known narratives, examines madness and memory through the character of Spider, released from long-term institutional care into an exploitative hostel setting, and his unmonitored descent back into psychosis.  Particularly notable is McGrath’s portrayal of emergent paranoia and auditory and olfactory hallucinations, striking in their realism.  “Asylum” focuses on sexual obsession and madness and is set in an institution similar to Broadmoor.

Key Themes:

  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads
  • Schizophrenia

Significant Quotes / Pages

30 - "There was a third possibility, though it took several minutes for it to dawn on me: that the smell was coming from me, from my own body. 

This was a shock.  I straightened up and tried to smell myself.  Nothing.  I staggered upright, clutching the end of the bed, and over my shirt and trousers, fumbling clumsily at the buttons in my haste.  Was it there?  Again that awful uncertainty-I would seem to have it, then it was gone.  I sat hunched on the bed, clutching myself around the shins, my forehead on my knees.  Did I have it?  Was there gas?  Was it seeping from my groin?  I lifted my head and turned it helplessly from side to side.  Gas from my groin?  It was at that moment that I became aware of the noise in the attic overhead, quiet laughter followed by a sort of bump-then there was silence again."

91-"The guilt was his, not mine! […] Oh, I throw down my pencil.  The psychology of the murderer-how do I know anything about this?  How do I know anything about any of this?  All acquired overseas, during the long, uneventful years I spent in Canada.  Enough, it is very late, I'm tired, there is stamping in the attic but I cannot go on.  The pain in my intestines have not gone away, it’s spread instead to my kidneys and liver, and I suspect that something very wrong is happening inside me, that it's not the food at all (filthy though it is), but that something far worse is involved.  I suspect, in fact, that my internal organs are starting to shrivel up, though I'm not clear why this should be so.  How will I be able to function if my organs shrivel up?  I am not possessed of great vitality, and can ill afford any shrinking or shrivelling internally.  Perhaps it's just a transient phenomenon, like the gas smell, which thankfully has not returned"

175 – “But I was different, I was learning to give them a good lunatic, and as time passed, and Spider made his life more secure in the back parts, it became less and less vital to maintain my claims on the ward.  The goading diminished, the agitation subsided, and I spent longer period downstairs.  I sat on the terrace and watched the man in the vegetable gardens, thinking: this is the work for me”

Reference: Patrick, McGrath. 1990. Spider. London: Penguin, 2002


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009