The Gentleman's Madness
The Gentleman’s Madness has an incredibly gripping hook. One of the heroes is in a mental asylum because he’s gay, and the other is an attendant there. I don’t usually read ebooks, but I bought this one (and downloaded the software to access it) because after reading the synopsis, I had to find out what happened.
John Gilliam, a young academic from a well-to-do family, had a promising future until his parents caught him with another man. To appease them, John agreed to undergo treatment for his ‘disorder’. Unfortunately he’s now in Fairpark, where any mistake – a careless word, a display of emotion – could lead to his stay not just being prolonged but made unbearable. When the story opens, he’s already lost access to books (they over-stimulate the mind) and pens (he might poke his eyes out). His clothes and privacy are gone, too, and he’s afraid his sanity will follow.
The last straw comes when the physician in charge leads a group of scholars into John’s room, using him as a case study, and one visitor is a former colleague – who pretends not to know him. John speaks up, earning a straitjacket and a stint in the quiet room.
Although he doesn’t realize it, this is when his life starts to edge towards the light, because the attendant sent to handle him is Sam Tully. Tully is brawny, uneducated and down-to-earth, the complete opposite of John. But he’s one of the kindest men I’ve read about, and he admires people who have the learning he lacks. So after he talks to John – partly to calm him down and partly because Tully treats all the patients like human beings – and discovers he’s not permitted books or pens, Tully volunteers to bring those to him for a couple of hours each evening and watch him while he uses them.
Seizing this lifeline, John offers to help Tully improve his reading skills during these sessions, since this is all John has left to trade. He soon starts discussing Socrates and Plato as well. Tully is surprised and pleased that such an intelligent man treats him like an intellectual equal, but he’s also uneasy. Although he suffers from the same ‘affliction’ as John, he’s been very careful to hide it, because he needs his job to support his father. Spending time with a man who fascinates him on both a mental and a physical level is dangerous. But he can’t seem to stay away.
“Is anything really a fact, Mr. Tully, or can our views shift to regard things in a different way?”
“The sky is blue. Rain is wet. Dogs bark. Yes, sir, I think some things is facts.” He was impressed with himself, having an argument with a man so much more learned than he, and holding his own. But he had the truth on his side. You couldn’t argue with blue skies and barking dogs.
Their conversations are a delight to read, the sexual tension simmers to the boiling point and there are some lovely turns of phrase. And while history isn’t my forte, nothing sprang out as inaccurate, though fortunately treatments like the ice baths and the ‘twirling chair’ are only referred to rather than described.
So, why didn’t this get a higher grade? Mainly, because of the weak resolution of the plot. I was immersed in John’s and Tully’s relationship. Everything about the two of them becoming friends, sharing secrets and tentatively feeling each other out, no pun intended, feels fresh and original.
But it seems as though any time an asylum or mental hospital features in a novel, this institution hides a deadly secret, and Fairpark is no exception. Here, the storyline becomes predictable. Do John and Tully investigate? Are the intransigent doctor and the Nurse Ratched-type attendant involved? Is there a race against time, with one of our heroes in danger? You know the answers before you read the review, let alone the book.
Finally, there is a sex scene that seems to have been needlessly tacked on at the end. I’m guessing it’s there to show that John and Tully have progressed beyond the furtive hand and blowjobs which were all they could enjoy in the asylum, because now they have the time for more. But the scene occurs after they’re a secure and happy couple. At first it felt completely superfluous, and then it gave the impression that anal sex was the required rubberstamp on their relationship, so the readers had to be assured this happened. The secret clinches in the asylum were so much hotter.
But on the whole, The Gentleman’s Madness is a wonderful romance; well-written, tense and moving. I opened it to select a quote or two from the first half of the story, and before I realized it, I’d reread thirty pages. If this was the start of a series, I’d be in line for the sequel.