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Seacliff: A regular boy within

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Malcolm, aged six, was abandoned at SEACLIFF MENTAL HOSPITAL in 1926. He always knew he was different from the other children. By Susan Tarr

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When his mother died, Malcolm at six years old became one of the ‘lost’ children of that time, those forgotten or abandoned by their families. His young life was spent in the SEACLIFF MENTAL HOSPITAL, situated north of Dunedin, where he grew up mirroring many of the mannerisms of the other hospital children. All the while he knew that he was different from them. Malcolm’s story is one of immeasurable sadness, when considering the tragedy and abuse of his wasted earlier life, and yet, with an admirable strength, courage and innate resilience, he ultimately rose above it all, and was able to free the ‘regular boy within’ as he had always wanted.

Customer Reviews

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Amazing Fi Review by Christoph Fischer - Germany
SEACLIFF: a Regular Boy Within is an amazing piece of fraction (fiction mixed with facts), the story of Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s.
Telling his story is telling the history of mental disease, its perception in society and its medical treatment. The author has not only dived deep into the institution and its history, she has also dared an attempt to look into Malcolm's head and his perception of it. We live with him and hear him describe how life at the various episodes of his disease and its treatment was for him.
Much of the world is seen from his perspective which makes the story all the more powerful, esp. knowing that much of this has happened for real.
We all have seen a change of terminology, from lunatic asylum to mental health - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Phenomena is an important work to mark the changing times, to remind us how far we have come and of how an individual's life can and has panned out through those changes.
It is heart breaking and heart warming at the same time. An ambitious aaccomplished novel that is well worth reading.” Christoph Fischer - Germany
(Posted on 11/04/2014)
A Flash Back to the Past Review by Melanie Barrett
Reading SEACLIFF: a Regular Boy Within was a flash back to the past for me. As a young nursing student I worked at Cherry Farm Psychiatric Hospital. There I met many “Malcolms” and always wondered about who they really were and how they came to be there. The story of Malcolm resonates with me as it shows me that story behind the person. Someone, through sheer bad luck was born to a family who couldn’t give him the basic necessities in life, not food or a home but love and a sense of belonging. Despite all of that Malcolm remained a gentle and kind person. SEACLIFF reminds me of the barbaric treatment given to patients in that era; ECT, insulin therapy, water treatment, and how it wasn’t so long ago that this was acceptable treatment. I was delighted at the end of the story as it gave me hope. Tarr has captured so honestly a part of New Zealand history that should never be forgotten and from which we should all learn as a lesson in humanity. (Posted on 4/03/2014)
A Very Readable Book Review by Ann Clausen
This is a book I found very hard to put down It brought back memories of the Hospitals mentioned in the Story That I grew up hearing about I really felt I knew the Characters mentioned by the end of the Book

(Posted on 4/03/2014)
You take us into the hearts and minds of your characters Review by Joye Johnson
I loved your book! It impacted me on so many levels and touched my heart in a deep way. What a wonderful heart Malcolm has and what an inspiration to us when we see what and who he has overcome. Susan Tarr, you have such a gift for taking us into the hearts and minds of your characters; its as though we know them personally. You have captured the essence of who they are, nothing added nothing taken away, everything just as it is, as it should be. Have you read John Steinbeck’s books? He has that same amazing way of making the simple and ordinary seem special through his characterisation, but your characters are real. (Posted on 14/02/2014)
YOU PAINT THE SCENES BEAUTIFULLY WITH YOUR WORDS Review by Linda Wilson (USA)
A moment ago I finished SEACLIFF. It was gripping, at times heart-wrenching. Last night I read the pages where Malcolm tried to clean up his infant brother. That and the part when he and Julie were separated were so hard, and when he was left at the train station, and...
You are an excellent writer! You paint the scenes beautifully with your words. I am impressed! You have a new fan.
(Posted on 7/12/2013)
Endearing Rendition of Characters Review by Sheryl Crawford
"Thank you, Susan Tarr, for a story I looked forward to reading a piece of every night, in fact the first book I have read for ages simply to enjoy. It was the words and images that hooked me; not causing tangible pain or tension, but a gladness that I could share in the lives of those affected by the world at Seacliff, even if I wasn’t able to change anything for them now. What a privilege.

I very much identified with the culture of compulsory shock treatment after having to assist with it as a nurse years ago. Susan’s careful choice of words and scenarios offered has made me so thankful practices have changed over the last few decades. And that people with mental health challenges and their families are given more respectful choices now – may this become more prevalent still.

To read of a subject potentially so raw, yet as endearing in its rendition of characters and true situations has been such a good experience, I’m ready to read more of Susan’s books. And others too!" Sheryl Crawford (counsellor)
(Posted on 26/10/2013)
Society's conscience Review by Moreport
Tarr's recent novel 'Seacliff' is an overview of an aspect of our past which needs to be told; a past which most people would prefer to leave mouldering. The story forces the reader to examine the woeful treatment and neglect of many unfortunate individuals who found themselves within the confines of a mental health institution during the fifties. We are taken there through the eyes and feelings of Malcom and experience the consequences of a tragic, social mistake. (Posted on 20/10/13) (Posted on 21/10/2013)
Authentic, honest read. Review by Jan Barron
The story of Malcolm in Susan Tarr’s book - SEACLIFF: A Regular Boy Within - brought me tears as well as laughter, not to mention frustration and disappointment about the treatment of patients at Seacliff Mental Hospital.

And her description of how some of the public treated and viewed the patients was all too true.

This story takes you through the boy Malcolm's life, during and after his admittance to the hospital, and his longing to be considered “a regular boy”. Humour has been introduced into this book, which lightened the otherwise darker scenes.

Having spent most of my school holidays with grandparents who lived at Seacliff, I was most impressed with the way the township was portrayed, recognising many places and people. As a member of the public, I was teased in Dunedin for spending holidays at Seacliff.

I have recommended this book to friends, and my Book Chat Group, one of whom took it from me to read straight away. I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading other books by Susan Tarr.
(Posted on 7/10/2013)
Reminds me of One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest Review by Margitte
GOODREADS 4 stars Review by Margitte

Malcolm lost everything in life when his mom died and his dad abandoned him at the train station. As trauma after trauma manifested in this young boy's life, his brain closed off the section when his memories became too much to handle. As a result he became more quiet and eventually stop speaking altogether. He had to endure terrible odds to survive, but had the presence of mind to know what was actually happening with- and around him. He was admitted to the Seacliff Asylum, which later would be named Seacliff Mental Hospital. It was also known as the Loony Bin or Booby Hatch, where"Malcolm gleaned that mad people shouldn’t speak. It only caused trouble and more work. They should sit and be quiet. Quietly mad.They lived in a world full of silent people in The Building – that’s what the hospital was called.

He suffered and witnessed the aftermath of experimental treatments, including the embarrassing concept of Eugenics, on people and at one point decided to take control of his own destiny by hiding his medicines in his pocket seams and not drinking it in the hope of improving his memory, which were constantly destroyed by The Treatment. With all The Treatments they had to endure through the years, and all the medicines fed to them to calm them all down, the 'inmates' lost their mind altogether. A little voice in him encouraged him to fight back his own silent way.

The book is not only a commemoration of the historical building, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, but also a detailed description of the lives and characters who graced it with their presence as either the 'rejects' of society, or the staff who worked there for many years. The characters are so endearing, I almost felt like going to them and say "I am so sorry society treated you this way".

The story winds through the historical facts with ease and a gripping tale is introduced to the reader. The tale is very well written.

This book reminds me of the movie "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest" , which also had me laughing and crying. Eventually Malcolm's spirit would triumph and in his case it became a celebration, after confirmation, of hope which never died:

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." --(Movie quote from: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Andy Defresne (Tim Robbins)

What an amazing story! (Posted on 26/09/2013)
Introspective but far from depressing Review by Cristian-Zenoviu Drozd
GOODREADS 5 star Review by Cristian-Zenoviu Drozd

I enjoyed this book very much, mainly because I personally know how accurate it is regarding many details of the life in a mental hospital. The books is very introspective, but far from depressing, and, as the cover artfully suggests, reveals some of the puzzle pieces of that marvelous labyrinth - the human mind. All the feelings, thoughts, facts are put into words skilfully, finding the perfect balance between simple and complex, fiction and reality. Readers of any level could enjoy it, just the simple surface story, or the depth that lies underneath it.
I would recommend this book to all those who like reading, no matter what genre, because there's much more to learn from it than from a psychological anthology!




(Posted on 25/09/2013)

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