Review- The Hobgoblin of Little Minds by Mark Matthews
If you’ve ever known anyone with Bipolar Disorder, you know that mania and depression can alter a person’s personality, bringing out the very best and the very worst of them. But what happens if we push it to its most extreme? Can we eradicate the bad parts of Bipolar and leave only the good?
With twenty years experience as a mental health counsellor, Matthews expertly describes the ways Bipolar manifests, from the grandiose energy and acute awareness of mania, to the crippling, coma-like depression. He explores the heredity of mental illness, shows us how it causes families to collapse, brings to life the severity of the symptoms – and does it all with compassion.
The title of the book comes from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson – “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Our antagonist, Dr. Zita, is determined to end the foolish consistency of treating Bipolar with meds that don’t work, and side effects that are often worse than the disorder itself. While her intentions are commendable, her methods are less than ethical, and the results are disastrous. By chemically manipulating her patients’ Bipolar cycles to coincide with the full moon, she has, in effect, turned them into werewolves.
The werewolf metaphor is powerful, made even more powerful by the fact that the word itself is never used in the book. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells come to mind, and we are reminded that such experiments never end well. Like those classics, this is a book that stays with you and makes you think, not only because of its themes, but because of the language itself. Lines like:
“A house full of hurt, painted in the color of her mom’s mental illness.”
“There is no greater sin than to create a consciousness only to let if suffer.”
“Inside each pheromone was the trauma of their memories.”
“To be born is to be hurt.”
In this article Matthews talks about how each of his novels was written to a specific song. As a songwriter and author, I find this fascinating, and upon finishing The Hobgoblin of Little Minds I immediately looked up the song “Howl” by Florence and the Machine. Indeed, the novel conveys the feel and tone of the song brilliantly.
Yes, this is a beautifully crafted story that makes you think – about mental illness, about psychiatric treatments, about what makes a life worth living, about good versus evil, and about the kinds of monsters that live within us.