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The Ghost Garden by Susan Doherty

Winner of The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 2019


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 ten 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.


Caroline Evans left her apartment on McCarthy Ave. with a one-way bus ticket shoved into the pocket of pink drawstring pajamas that doubled as pants. She boarded the #106 bus bound for the Ottawa General Hospital, and something about her eyes guaranteed the seat beside her stayed empty, despite the early morning rush. At the check-in window of the emergency department, she asked, perhaps too politely, to be admitted. Caroline’s hair was a nest of knots, her blouse a crust of tomato soup stains, but the distracted nurse turned her away, missing vital signs of an unwashed woman distracted by a hailstorm of voices in her head.
What happened between that Friday and the following Sunday morning is lost to the voices in Caroline’s head. What she does know is that near noon on Sunday, she filled a large kettle with water and placed it on the stove to boil. The instructions from the gang of voices were clear and specific: “Kill the devil.” As the kettle hissed like a tomcat, she knew what had to be done.

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