The Shiny Guys, by Doug MacLeod

A dark look at mental disorders and the journeys on which their victims can be forced to travel. Though there is a liberal sprinkling of humour, this is a confronting look at how fantasy and reality can merge, and the mental health system.

The inmates of Ward 44 come in all shapes and sizes. Some are old, some are young, but we are united in one respect. Our brains don’t work. Or rather, they do work, just not in a way society finds acceptable. We have mental problems, some more serious than others.

Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old, and trapped in Ward 44, a psychiatric ward. Colin doesn’t think he’s crazy, but he does know that he’s visited by the shiny guys, strange shapes that flitter on the edge of his vision. He’s pretty sure that the new girl in the ward, Anthea, can see them too. His other friend in the ward, Mango, can’t see the shiny guys, but he is tormented by bad dreams, and has an attachment disorder – a compulsive need to hold on to people.

When the shiny guys start to show themselves to Colin more fully, he realises they want him to face up to the terrible things he did. It was his fault, he’s sure, that his little sister disappeared, and now it’s up to him to fix things, under the direction of the shiny guys. But as theĀ  shiny guys get more insistent, Colin wonders if he’s going to be able to put everything right for himself and his family, as well as for Anthea and Mango.

The Shiny Guys is a dark look at mental disorders and the journeys on which their victims can be forced to travel. Though there is a liberal sprinkling of humour, this is a confronting look at how fantasy and reality can merge, and the mental health system. With the story set in 1985, MacLeod is careful to reassure readers that modern psychiatric wards are different than Ward 44, which is reassuring, yet the issues and illnesses faced by the characters are still very relevant. It’s also important to note that although some of the treatment methods used in the book (including electric shock therapy) are questionable, the staff of the ward are generally portrayed sympathetically as people doing the best they can with limited resources.

MacLeod is best known for his comedic offerings but, although The Shiny Guys has very serious subject matter, it is not a huge shift from his usual cleverness. In fact it is the use of humour which makes the story so palatable.

Recommended for teen and adult readers.

The Shiny Guys

The Shiny Guys, by Doug MacLeod
Penguin, 2012
ISBN 978014356530

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.