Book Review: My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is

my mind to me

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

“Everywhere, echoes”

On 3 May 2015, Paul Stanbridge’s older brother, Mark, died by suicide. Nine days earlier he had entered an area of woodland near Stoke by Clare on the Suffolk/Essex border. His body was discovered a day after the pivotal event, hanging from a tree, by two local men walking a dog.

Such are the bald facts of a close family death. They are teased out over the course of this narrative – a memoir in which we are told memory cannot be trusted. Timelines remain fluid. What happened is known by the author through hearsay as he cannot yet bring himself to read his copy of the coroner’s report. His grief manifests in wandering considerations of seemingly random interests that then serve as metaphors for aspects of the brothers’ relationship.

“Many of the things I remember are impossibilities, and yet for me they happened.”

For over a year the author’s life stalled as he struggled to process his loss. He would sit at home in the dark, sometimes aware of the presence of someone outside on a rocking chair, smoking. His insomnia was interspersed with underwater dreams.

The book opens with his thoughts on Doggerland, the toponymy of the North Sea and the naming of its regions. There are: maps, history, those who wrote of the place. It becomes an obsession during a time when his mind lacked more regular focus, when he did not wish to think of his new reality. In navigating this labyrinth of grief the past is rewritten each time elements are remembered.

Included herein are stories of strange happenings: a child born with a twin sibling growing inside him, unknown until it eventually kills him; trees that consume articles left beside them – fences and bicycles becoming strange appendages. There are musings on how relics of Christ were valued and dispersed in abundance, far more than could be possible, due to the belief in the power of a lingering presence after death. It is clear that the author’s brother still exerts influence.

Historic interests and researches are interspersed with memories of Mark, coming together to read like a fever dream. There are occasional lucid moments but much of the discourse is oblique. Mark was obviously a disturbed individual, behaving, in his brother’s words, badly in a wide variety of ways.

“If I had to describe him in a single phrase, it would be: wilfully uncooperative.”

In amongst the memories of a troubled relationship, one that led to estrangement and death threats – although there was reconciliation in the months before Mark’s death – there are happier recollections. The author writes of a bike ride they undertook in the Pennines, a moment of joy glimpsed on a person whose chosen way of living was challenging to be a part of, hard to comprehend.

More than a year after Mark’s death, friends of the author asked him to house sit their cottage in Wiltshire while they travelled abroad for several weeks. It was here that a healing of sorts began, to the backdrop of an unexpected interest in horses – creatures never before esteemed. Books on the subject were read avidly, bike rides undertaken to investigate. Insomnia and the underwater dreams faded away.

The interests documented in this memoir – water, horses, trees, memorials – link to Mark in myriad ways. Although distractions at the time to aid coping, there are obvious links in how they are written of here.

The lingering pain of grief comes across clearly. What is set out here does not always make for easy reading.

I struggled to retain engagement through the many digressions. When Mark was referenced directly my attention was awakened but wandering through the reflective researching of the author at this difficult time did not always pique my interest. The obvious poignancy garners sympathy but the narrative style, with its many historic anecdotes, required investment. Perhaps prior knowledge of subjects would have helped.

There were nuggets that kept me reading – mostly when I shared the author’s fascination with a topic, when that prior knowledge existed. I could appreciate how each element was pulled together to make a coherent story in which the shadow of Mark pervaded. I admire what has been written but, in the main, did not enjoy reading it.

Any Cop?: I wrote of the author’s previous publication, Forbidden Line (a retelling of Don Quixote): ‘Perhaps I would have enjoyed some of the seemingly abstruse sections more had I been familiar with the original.’ Once again, I feel a ‘better read’ reader may gain more from this book. It is clever and of interest, but was not for me.

Jackie Law


Book Review: Forbidden Line


Forbidden Line, by Paul Stanbridge, is such an original work of fiction it is hard to simply explain what it is about. At its most basic it tells a story of two men, Don and Is, who walk around Essex and into London together discussing their lives and what they hope to achieve. Both are highly unusual characters.

Don has spent the last twenty-one years writing a book. When Is is struck by lightning in a field, Don takes him into his improvised home to recover. Don believes their coming together in this way is a sign and the pair set off on their perambulations.

Don says of Is

“You pilot the least penetrative mind I have ever encountered”

“I do not think there is a man or woman alive who can persuade you out of these beliefs […] But that doesn’t mean they are not founded on error”

However, Is’s mind has a redeeming feature. He may not be able to read or write but, since the lightning strike, he remembers everything he is told.

Don wishes to be married to chance. He refuses to accept that anything other than the here and now exists. He eschews all plans, accepting that whatever happens along the way is as it is meant to be.

“From whence does order spring? From the impulse to tidy-up. But the very tidying-up is what creates the notion of disorder and mess”

He recognises that society functions on a very different premise.

“There can be no chaos! screams the neurosis of the West”

“It is the chaos our culture has sought to smother, good manners and right behaviour being the puritanical bedfellows of rationalism and logical argument”

The pair wander through the fields and lanes of Essex indulging in rambling dialogue, much of which appears nonsensical. However, in amongst the many monologues reside nuggets of wisdom.

They partake in a series of misadventures with others they meet. Some of these strangers accept or ignore Don’s pronouncements, politeness dictating that those who appear mad should be tolerated until escaped from. Others are less accepting leading to brawls when a new acquaintance reaches

“the limit of his own tolerance for an insult he could not understand”

Don’s determination to accept whatever chance offers leads to some very funny scenes. The pair are followed by a herd of curious cows. They steal a horse. They cast aside their clothes. When the forces of law and order step in to punish their offences it is for behaving differently more than causing harm.

“The clan is an oppressive institution, asserting identities, managing normativities, punishing dissent in order that it be a single manageable body”

Don, choosing to live only in the present, questions the excitement of anticipation when others make plans.

“This is a feature of human pleasure, the enjoyment of something which hasn’t yet happened”

The plans that Don and Is eventually get caught up in are a re-enactment of The Peasants Revolt. They have been assigned the role of leaders against their will. The crowds gathering listen to Don’s words but hone in only on the message they want to hear.

This latter section of the book, which takes up well over a hundred pages, was in places wearing to read. Don is struggling to square his rejection of history and newly found dislike of the written word with what he now feels he can achieve.

“I had drifted perilously close to that normative human activity which leads from desire, through exertion, to satisfaction. It is a disposition on the one hand praised as aspirational and on the other denigrated as depraved, depending on the object of desire”

Inexplicable events occur. The suffering systematically meted out by the wealthy on the poor becomes manifest to the perpetrators, yet still they will not desist. Retaliation is merciless. It is hard to know what to believe.

There is much in the prose that I loved, for example, a town viewed from a distance is described as “draped over a hill”. The droll manner in which the author portrays the protagonists’ peculiarities is a pleasure to read.

“Here Don paused in order to become miserable; this having been achieved, he continued”

The story is, apparently, a retelling of Don Quixote. Perhaps I would have enjoyed some of the seemingly abtruse sections more had I been familiar with the original.

This is not a book to be rushed. There are penetrative insights to be gleaned from a cast of characters whose questionning of what is regarded as normal will make the reader ponder accepted behaviours anew. The story may be challenging in places but any effort required to uncover its essense will be rewarded.

“anything can be made to symbolise anything with the right approach”