Ordinary. Normal. Are these things insults? Or something to aspire to? When we are young we want to be individuals (although often by joining a tribe of some sort) but at other points in life the idea of fitting in, of not calling attention to ourselves, appeals. But when it comes to our mental health, well, normal is the thing to aspire to: or is it?
Dan’s brain is certainly not what anyone would call normal. He has suffered since childhood and is currently living rough in Brighton, alone apart from the persistent voices in his head. When he witnesses a fatal car accident he realises the voice in his head is that of the victim, Joe, and he (Dan) is inexorably drawn towards Natalie, the widow who he last saw cradling her dying husband. This, given, Dan’s state of mental health is understandable but why does Natalie accept his story? Why does she then let Dan into her home, her life and, eventually, her heart? As we look back into both Dan and Natalie’s lives we learn about their pasts, their relationships and discover that they each have their own issues with their mental health and with the families who have tried, and failed, to make them more ‘normal’.
If this were just an exploration of two characters psyches it would be an interesting but rather ‘worthy’ novel. However, we explore more about Dan and Natalie than their mental health – we explore their relationships with families, friends and strangers and the growing romance between them. Nothing is prettied up either and each character’s internal voice is, by turns, bitter, fearful and self-hating until they are able to realise that while those voices are individual and personal to them they could, with help, move towards one which is far more within a normal range. They both, in the end, aspire to become ordinary, while realising they can still retain much of what makes them both unique and worthy of love.