When Two Become One... by BARBARA NADEL

Written by Barbara Nadel

Trained as an actress, Barbara Nadel used to work in mental health services. Born in the East End of London, she now writes full time and has been a visitor to Turkey for over twenty years. She received the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger for her novel DEADLY WEB, and the Swedish Flintax Prize for historical crime fiction for her first Francis Hancock novel, LAST RIGHTS.





Is mental illness transmittable? Yes, I know it's not something most people think about every day, but it is a subject that comes up in secure psychiatric units. I know this because I used to work in one and came across what may have been examples of this contentious phenomenon.


I use the word 'may' because whether or not psychosis can be transmitted from one person to another is very much open to question. First conceptualised by French psychiatrists Charles Lasegue and Jean-Pierre Fairet in the 19th century the idea of folie a deux or the madness of two is, at least in the world beyond secure units, a rare phenomenon - and a scary one. That said, I did come across it 'outside' once, when I was working in the community with a couple I will call Ja and Jb.


Ja was a middle aged woman who had been suffering from a psychotic illness since her early twenties. Jb, her partner, was a young man whose mental state had broken down at university. Both were highly intelligent, but while Ja tended towards aggression, Jb was a quiet contemplative character. His delusions, though frightening, were very much personal to him and he rarely shared details, unlike Ja. Ja lived in a world of terrifying phone calls from aliens and hordes of murderous crows. She was very vocal about her delusions and would often resort to violence in an attempt to bring them to peoples attention. This, eventually, included Jb who, over time, began to see what she saw, hear what she heard and started to act in a violent manner if his experiences were denied. Eventually, for the sake of Jb's health, the couple had to be separated. Jb then recovered his previous equilibrium.


Whether Ja actually transmitted her symptoms to Jb or whether she imposed her beliefs on him (known as folie imposee) is open to question. But for me, working with Ja and Jb, their situation opened up a whole world of psychological debate I knew I wanted to explore in fiction one day. Cue my latest Cetin Ikmen book, 'The House of Four'.


The main plot of Ikmen book number 19 concerns a family secret but there is also a sub-plot that revolves around a series of apparently random attacks on individuals on a bridge across the Golden Horn, in the Grand Bazaar and on a tram. Suspects include a couple whose behaviour is described as 'bizarre'.


Could this be a case of folie a deux or is there something more organised and more sinister at play? I'm not going to reveal anything here as it will spoil enjoyment of the book, but do look out for it. With my background in psychology I like to explore the more contentious and extreme corners of the human psyche because these things are out there and so finally I'll leave you with some advice that was given to me by one of my lecturers when I was a student back in the Dark Ages.


We had been looking at a group of conditions known as the paraphilias. These are obsessions some people develop, mainly sexual in nature, with inappropriate life forms and/or inanimate objects. At the time, a man in London had just been arrested for the crime of offending public decency by having sex with a paving stone. It was all over the news and so we talked about it in one of our sessions. I asked our lecturer whether it was possible there was some sort of limit on a person  becoming obsessed or 'infected' by desire for something. Was it possible, for instance, for someone to be attracted to or obsessed with wallpaper paste? His response was as follows:


'If it exists, someone somewhere will want to either take it home and care for it and/or have sex with it.'


And so, especially with my books, I suspect, be prepared for the psychological oddity. Don't be shocked - these things do, I believe, exist - oh and keep an open mind. That's very important.


The House of Four by Barbara Nadel, published by Headline on 18th May 2017. Reviewed by John Parker

Back in 2004 Barbara wrote a fascinating article entitled WHERE THE BODIES ARE HID. Check it out.


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Barbara Nadel

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