Helen Walsh - Go to Sleep (3 stars)

Helen Walsh - Go to Sleep

(Canongate)

Helen Walsh makes compelling reading of a complex issue in her third novel, Go to Sleep, which aims to explore, and explode, the taboos surrounding post-natal depression. Based on her own experience of PND – which is estimated to affect a quarter of new mothers – Walsh’s account of one woman’s post-birth disorientation, terror and psychosis is unflinching and significant.

It is also, mercifully, invested with humour and colour: the heroine’s droll, sleep-deprived inner monologues about Peppa Pig and CBeebies are only too familiar (‘Mellow fruitfulness? My arse’) and she weaves several narrative threads through heady evocations of Liverpool’s multi-racial street culture. These offer welcome respite from the isolation and alarm of Walsh’s subject matter.

The author does well to challenge the stigma of PND, but Go to Sleep is relentlessly melodramatic. At every turn, its 30-year-old protagonist, Rachel, undergoes life in extremis, from her obsessive sexual awakening, to her nightmarish labour, to her family (or lack thereof). This endless procession of histrionics threatens to obscure the novel’s intense but fragile central theme.

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