Author Peter Kocan was sentenced to “life” in 1966. He spent many years in an Australian hospital for the criminally insane for the attempted assassination of Labor leader Arthur Calwell. This work is not called a memoir but, told in the quiet voice of an introspective loner, the tone and detail certainly suggests that it is just that.
Originally published as two separate works, The Treatment and The Cure have been brought together as one seamless novel.
The Treatment follows 19-year-old Len Tarbutt as he enters the maximum security unit of this hospital to continue a life sentence for an unspecified crime. The terror Len feels is so understated that it allows the reader to actually see the other men who share his new home. Among these inhabitants are men who have been through so many shock treatments they are left catatonic, men who have a dis-arming sense of humor, especially considering their surroundings, and attendants who seem to have rather symbiotic relationships with the patients. The goal here is to get transferred from MAX into Ward 5. No one really knows what they’ll find there, but they know it’s the first step to freedom, a reason to survive the trials of MAX.
The Cure begins as Len enters the much desired Ward 5. But is life any better for these patients? Here Len finds failure and success, dignity and depression, self-loathing and pride. All while fighting his continuous obsession of over-thinking every decision he makes, walking a tightrope of “yes” equals failure/“no” equals failure. Is he that different from any of us?
The Treatment & The Cure is a fascinating read. This is not a “poor pitiful me” experience that one might expect from such a young character in such a dire situation. It has more a cerebral tone of “this is just the way it is in my world”. Len’s emotion is not told but shown through subtle changes in the rhythm of the narration which are un-noticeable to the reader until he suddenly falls from a bit of a high and you realize you are emotionally right back where you started.
I believe this is the first book I have ever read that is written in the second person. That, in itself, was a very interesting experience, giving the book a noir feeling and causing me to feel as if I was dreaming the scenes as opposed to imagining them. It’s a work that doesn’t excite the reader, but, rather, causes one to feel quite introspective and wonder just how many steps away from insanity any one of us may be.
Title: The Treatment & The Cure
Author: Peter Kocan
Publisher: Europa Editions