Books·Canadian

The Ghost Garden

A nonfiction book by Susan Doherty.

Susan Doherty

Susan Doherty's groundbreaking book brings us a population of lost souls, ill-served by society, feared, shunted from locked wards to rooming houses to the streets to jail and back again. For the past 10 years, some of the people who cycle in and out of the severely ill wards of the Douglas Institute in Montreal, have found a friend in Susan, who volunteers on the ward, and then follows her friends out into the world as they struggle to get through their days.

With their full cooperation, she brings us their stories, which challenge the ways we think about people with mental illness on every page. The spine of the book is the life of Caroline Evans (not her real name), a woman in her early 60s whom Susan has known since she was a bright and sunny school girl. Caroline had formed a close friendship with Susan and shared stories from her life; through her, we experience what living with schizophrenia over time is really like. She has been through it all, including the way the justice system treats the severely mentally ill: at one point, she believed that she could save her roommate from the devil by pouring boiling water into her ear...

Susan interleaves Caroline's story with vignettes about her other friends, human stories that reveal their hopes, their circumstances, their personalities, their humanity. She's found that if she can hang in through the first 10 to 15 minutes of every coffee date with someone in the grip of psychosis, then true communication results. Their "madness" is not otherworldly: instead it tells us something about how they're surviving their lives and what they've been through. The Ghost Garden is not only touching, but carries a cargo of compassion and empathy. (From Random House Canada)

From the book

I did not intend to write a book about people who live with schizophrenia. But in October 2009, a door opened in front of me and I unexpected found myself face to face with a group of highly misunderstood souls. The door was to an elevator that required a special key to gain access. It carried me up to a locked ward. I'd never gone anywhere in the hospital where the doors shut tight behind me. My legs were a little shaky and my heart was thumping as I stepped off the elevator into a hallway where listless men and women in various states of undress regarded me with suspicious eyes. Grooming was nonexistent. Their slippers whispered to the linoleum as they shuffled along, many in flapping hospital gowns, murmuring to themselves.


From The Ghost Garden by Susan Doherty ©2019. Published by Random House Canada.

Interviews with Susan Doherty

Susan Doherty has been volunteering to help people with severe mental illness for more than a decade. She's written about what she's learned in her new book The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia's Feared and Forgotten. 23:46

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