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Bedlam Burning

Current Status:
In Season
Geoff Nicholson

We gave it a B-

British novel, literary satire division, Cuckoo’s Nest half-twist, dry. Aimless young Michael Smith — ”so pretty,” a Cambridge don sizes him up, ”and so empty” — poses for the author photo of a homely first-time novelist and consequently lands a gig as writer-in-residence at an experimental psychiatric clinic. There, ensconced in his ”writer’s hut,” he evaluates the scrawled rants of the patients, a small dish of central-casting nuts, for literary merit. He beds a potty-mouthed lady shrink. He engages in dialogue about the nature of reading and the paradoxes of this crazy world: ”’If Carla is only pretending to be mad, then there must be a sane reason for that pretence.”’ The catch is, these asylum antics read like the fancies of a gentle juvenile; the jokes (pointedly bookish, mildly dirty) are tentative and tend to defuse themselves, as if told by a class clown who really wants to be the teacher’s pet. So pretty, so empty, so-so.