Bette Howland

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21 July 2022
224 pages

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

At moments dazzlingly and daringly written Rachel Cooke, Observer

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 dishevelled, 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 a vivid – and often surprisingly funny – portrait of the extraordinary 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.

Originally published in 1974 and rediscovered forty years later, this is the first edition of W-3 to be published in the UK. With 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 . . . 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