The Girl Behind The Gates | Brenda Davies

Cover of The Girl Behind The Gates, photo image of teenage girl in purple coat looking towards Victorian hospital building, mature trees around

From an era of jaw-dropping medical cruelty and prejudice against women – that would be about 100 years ago – comes this tale of Nora. She’s a beautiful, talented 17-year-old from a well-off, respectable family.

One day she is delighting and inspiring all who hear her sing in church. The next, her pregnancy is revealed.

She is pronounced “morally defective”, cast off by her family and delivered to the local mental hospital. Here she is destined to spend the next forty-seven years.

Forty-seven years. How can that have been allowed to happen?

Where is the father? And what happens to her baby?

Scraps of kindness

Yet somehow Nora’s spirit survives, fed on scraps of kindness from a progressive-minded doctor and some unlikely friendships. And in the second part of the book, her rehabilitation begins.

Gradually Dr Janet Humphreys teaches the middle-aged Nora to understand and let go of the multiple traumas she has suffered in the name of treatment and correction.

Will this damaged woman ever be capable of living independently? Will the emergence of some shocking personal details devastate her anew?

And will Dr Humphreys be able to resolve her own emotional issues?

We owe it to Nora to listen

While this is a novel, the author is herself a consultant psychiatrist who thanks “Nora” in the acknowledgements. So we can assume a fair degree of historical veracity.

It’s not an easy read – yet we owe it to Nora, who experienced these things, to listen to her story.

And help does come – late in the day, but thankfully not too late to change her conviction that everything which happened was her own fault.

Perhaps even to sing again

The second half of the book is an abrupt change of tone and perspective. But this is necessarily so, and I found Dr Humphreys’ insights and methods deeply interesting.

And like a sad little caged bird, slowly Nora begins to lift her head, to peep beyond her prison, and perhaps even to sing again…

If you can make it through the storm with Nora, then you will find yourself alongside her, blinking in wonderfully unexpected sunshine.

This is not an easy read, but a rewarding and cathartic one.

The Girl Behind The Gates by Brenda Davies is published by Hachette, eBook, £3.99 (May 28); PB, £8.99 (July 23).

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Sarah Proctor

I've worked on a variety of regional newspapers and national magazines. My Weekly and Your Best Ever Christmas are fantastic, warm-hearted brands with an amazing, talented team. I'm a sub-editor and particularly love working on cookery, fiction and advice pages - I feel I should know all the secrets of eternal life, health and happiness by now, but hey, we all need that regular reminder!