Bette Howland

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24 June 2021
224 pages

'W-3 is one hell of a debut' Lucy Scholes, Paris Review

'At moments dazzlingly and daringly written' Rachel Cook, Guardian

'Howland is finally getting the recognition that she deserves
' Sarah Hughes, iNews

W-3 is a small psychiatric ward in a large university hospital, a world of pills and passes dispensed by an all-powerful staff, a world of veteran patients with grab-bags of tricks, a world of disheveled, moment-to-moment existence on the edge of permanence.

Bette Howland was one of those patients. In 1968, Howland was thirty-one, a single mother of two young sons, struggling to support her family on the part-time salary of a librarian; and labouring day and night at her typewriter to be a writer. One afternoon, while staying at her friend Saul Bellow’s apartment, she swallowed a bottle of pills. W-3 is both an extraordinary portrait of the community of Ward 3 and a record of a defining moment in a writer’s life. The book itself would be her salvation: she wrote herself out of the grave.

This beautiful edition features an original introduction by Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End.

‘For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life could begin. At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’

The voice is cool and the gaze is clear . . . a startlingly frank account of mental illness, and the contradictions and humiliations of life as a patient . . . akin to a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Martha Gill, The Times

A writer of terrifying power, who sees and hears everything . . . Not only is this a sane memoir of madness but it may well be the sanest, most mordant take on the subject I have ever read.

Frances Wilson, Daily Telegraph

Her memoir, clear-eyed, with an anthropological, sociological distance, is a brilliant attempt to document life on the ward with clinical detachment . . . a wonder. Her prose is direct, unadorned, under-stated.

Arnold Thomas Fanning, Irish Times