Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

It was the super folk at The Barbellion Prize who organised for Penned in the Margins to send me a copy of Sanatorium by Abi Palmer. My grateful thanks to them all.

Sanatorium was shortlisted for The Barbellion Prize and published by Penned in the Margins, Sanatorium is available for purchase here.

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

A young woman spends a month taking the waters at a thermal water-based rehabilitation facility in Budapest.

On her return to London, she attempts to continue her recovery using an £80 inflatable blue bathtub. The tub becomes a metaphor for the intrusion of disability; a trip hazard in the middle of an unsuitable room, slowly deflating and in constant danger of falling apart.

Sanatorium moves through contrasting spaces bathtub to thermal pool, land to water, day to night interlacing memoir, poetry and meditations on the body to create a mesmerising, mercurial debut.

My Review of Sanatorium

A young woman’s month at a water based rehabilitation centre.

I have absolutely no idea what I’ve just read in Abi Palmer’s Sanatorium. It’s part memoir, part flash fiction, part fantasy, part lucid explanation of illness and pain, part metaphor for life, frequently written with the fabulous intensity of a narrative poem and always with luminous, beautiful, and occasionally stark, prose. However Sanatorium might be defined, it is written with incredible imagination, intelligence and beauty. There’s both sadness and humour so that Sanatorium feels perfectly balanced even while the narrator herself can feel slightly unhinged.

The quality of the prose is mesmeric and quite unsettling. Frequently poetic in tone, I found the writing ethereal and slippery. Reading it felt a bit like trying to catch something in the corner of my eye and not quite being able to see it. Ali’s experience illustrates how we are simultaneously bound by and yet not confined to our bodies so that there is a magic lantern effect in reading Sanatorium. This effect gave the book an almost mystical feeling that I absolutely loved. The iterative image of water is sensational. Abi Palmer conveys its power to heal and destroy, to support and dissolve, to buoy us up and to deluge us in ways that are poetic, unusual and completely compelling. 

The conversational tone is so convincing that it is as if Abi Palmer is on the phone, telling the reader about her month in the sanatorium in Budapest. This had the effect of drawing me in completely. 

It’s difficult to review Sanatorium because it is such an elusive chimera of a book. I was spellbound reading it because, it’s moving, mystical and magnificent. In Sanatorium Abi Palmer gives everyone a mesmerising insight into pain and life affecting illness, but above all, into hope. I didn’t always understand every allusion or reference, but I finished the book with renewed gratitude for my own life and a feeling that, if ever I were to meet Abi Palmer I would like and respect her unreservedly. I really recommend giving Sanatorium a read.

About Abi Palmer

Abi Palmer is a mixed-media artist and writer. Her work often includes themes of disability, gender and multisensory interaction. Her artworks include: Crip Casino, an interactive gambling arcade parodying the wellness industry and institutionalised spaces, displayed at the Tate Modern and Somerset House; and Alchemy, a multisensory poetry game, which won a Saboteur Award in 2016. She has written for BBC Radio, The Guardian and Poetry LondonSanatorium is her first book.

You can find out more on Abi Palmer’s website and follow her on Twitter @abipalmer_bot. You’ll also find her on Instagram.

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