In T.J. Benson’s The Madhouse, dysfunctionality is the norm. It is a domestic tale that revolves around a family of four; Sweet Mother, an artist, her husband Shariff, a writer and ex-soldier and their two sons – Andre and Max. In addition to their dysfunctionality, the house they call home used to be a sanatorium at the end of Freedom Street in Sabon Gari in Northern Nigeria. The family’s story is told with Nigeria’s military rule of the 90s in the background.
While the writing is good, the structure and plot are worrying and just do not work for me as a reader. The story tilted a lot towards magic realism (a genre that I just do not enjoy) but the bigger problem was how the plot alternated between the past, present and dreams. At some points, it was difficult to know if what you were reading was an occurrence in the real world or in the dream world. The timelines are haphazardly arranged and this made the character development almost non-existent. While there is a quest to make sense of the lives of this family, the dysfunctionality seems random. I appreciated the sibling love between Andre and Max as depicted by the lengths Max went to rescue his brother from the many experiences that tried to destroy him but that strand was not strong enough to hold The Madhouse from the disjointed and vague plot that led me to not finishing it. After struggling and getting past the 200-page mark, I gave up and sadly classed this as DNF.