Books

Book Review: The Glass House by Anne Buist and Graeme Simsion

A registrar in an acute psych ward hopes to qualify for a psychiatry training program, but can she resolve her own complicated history?

The opening scene of The Glass House depicts a grim scenario. A house is in disarray. A baby is crying. A woman picks up a knife. It portents dark things. But soon, the woman, Sian, is thrust into the busy and underfunded acute psychiatric ward at the fictional Menzies Hospital, where registrar Hannah Wright is just a few weeks into her rotation. The chaotic ward, Hannah explains, is “the emergency medicine for mental health”, setting up a series of episodic, high-stakes admissions that she must navigate in order to prove to the Professor – and herself – that she deserves a spot in a training program to fulfil her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.   

The knife that kicks off the action is a red herring. The only person Sian is a danger to is herself. Hannah and the large cast of characters who accompany her clash and bicker, all with the goal of doing the best they can for vulnerable patients in a less than perfect system.

Hannah is a dedicated, plucky and self-aware girl from the country. She has a fractious history with the Professor who holds the key to her professional fate. The tension between them alludes to her dark past that both fuels and hinders her ambition. She is aided in her journey by an adoring housemate, and her study group, which harbours both potential friends and potential love interests.

Buy The Glass House by Anne Buist and Graeme Simsion at QBD Books.

Each chapter introduces a new patient, and a new presentation. There’s an almost thriller-like urgency to some of the scenarios. While others are heart-wrenching. With skill and care, the authors explore post-partum psychosis, PTSD, anorexia, depression, and suicidal ideation, to name a few. The heavy material is tempered with a romantic sub-plot and more than a little comic relief. The levity is needed. Suicide is a recurring theme, but one handed with mature care. Nothing ever feels gratuitous.

The Glass House is the third collaboration between husband-and-wife team Anne Buist, a perinatal psychiatrist, and Graeme Simsion, who wrote the runaway hit The Rosie Project, and its popular follow-ups. This book was born out of the many stories Anne used to bring home from her work. 

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Anne’s background shows in the storytelling. Her knowledge of the patients and the clinical setting means things are never overexplained or bogged down in technical detail. The lightness, humour and pace of the Rosie books are also evident.

The manuscript was read by a long list of specialists. Anne told The Weekly that her primary aim in writing this story was to do no harm, and the book achieves this. The effect is a deeply empathetic, humanising portrait of a mental health facility, and the souls that pass through it: both to provide help and receive it.

The Glass House is an unexpectedly easy read, given the subject matter, and the first in a planned series following Hannah Wright. After finishing the final page, I was glad to hear we would be getting more.

Buy The Glass House here and read our author interview with Anne Buist and Graeme Simsion.

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