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Inside the mind of the insane

Published Feb 6, 2022

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If you’re looking for a book that tackles mental health in a way that isn’t presented as a self-help offering, then Sanity Prevail may just be the read for you.

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Sanity Prevail is Perfect Hlongwane's sophomore novel published by Blackbird Books and it is set in a psychiatric hospital.

The narrator and unnamed protagonist, who is also a patient at the public institution, relates his experiences and those of fellow patients, including events that led to their current predicament and incarceration.

This read provides much-needed insight into mental health, suicide and depression as the characters all relate their personal stories that led them to end up at the same institution.

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Once there, his stay becomes a meditation on the concept of wellness and a critique of how we comprehend what and who constitutes the unwell, and a sometimes compassionate and often confused obsession with the stories of the patients he finds himself sharing a space with.

What develops is a keen look at society and the values and beliefs that tend to shape it, all anchored in the main character’s refusal to place too much faith in his own scepticism and disgruntlement.

The stories of his fellow patients lay bare the sordid humour and horror of life in this country called South Africa, and ultimately grapple with the intrusions of the past on the present, the future, and the tenacious struggle of a beleaguered people to hold on to the dregs of their humanity.

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Throughout his writing, the writer wrestles with questions on what it means to write; the too often futile fulfilment of the thing, while challenging established literary forms and conventions.

Layered in 22 simple to read chapters, the book ultimately positions itself as a tale about a psych patient that questions the concept of mental disorder and tries to decipher who and what constitutes the unwell.

Due to the nature of the narrator’s illness, he is unreliable so the reader then has to pay special attention to him as his anecdotes and hypotheses can be convoluted and seductive.

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Perfect Hlongwane was born to Nonceba Priscilla Johnson of Soweto and Lindela Cleopas Hlongwane of Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal. He received an excellent formative education in eSwatini. He has been a journalist, English Lecturer, soccer magazine editor and copy editor. The writer lives and works in Johannesburg.

Sanity Prevail is published by Blackbird Books and is available at all major bookstores.

Sunday Independent

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