mental shrapnel

a novel, by Phillip O’Neil

ISBN 978-1-9996964-0-5. 392 pages. 1st edition. Paperback. Publication date: October 2020. Equus Press: London & Prague. Price: € 12.00 (not including postage)

Order direct from Equus Press (paperback only); from Small Press Distribution; or via Amazon UK /US; or try the Kindle edition.

Chris Mahler was a top psychologist, but that was before the war in Bosnia. Something happened to him during that war – it left him too traumatised to remember. Jasmina was the love of his life. She was killed in the siege of Sarajevo & his ability to live & love again died with her. Or so he believes. Now a shell-shocked survivor, he is the patient, strapped to a bed under the care of the mysterious Dr Steinfelder. 

Mahler’s trauma & amnesia can be cured. But what will he remember if it is? Is Mahler the perfect Guinea Pig the doctors have been hoping to find? Or is it a case of kill or cure? Mahler wants to uncover all that lies hidden in his brain. Powerful men want it to stay buried. The Orwellian tyrant known as ‘The Censor’ has his secrets too, but what does he want from Mahler? Once colleagues, Steinfelder & ‘The Censor’ are now arch-enemies. Mahler must go to war once more & this time the stakes are higher than ever before, discovering that in the twenty-first century, psychiatry is the newest & deadliest weapon of war. 

“Phillip O’Neil’s book is a study in hell. […] This is a brutal book. Its shifts in tone are often jarring. And yet that gives it a texture and a patina unlike any other book I’ve read.I would expect no less from Equus Press, whose experimental texts are at the forefront of the contemporary avant garde. As publishers, they don’t flinch from discomfort, and works of twisted brilliance like Mental Shrapnel are the result.This is a book that shoves you, then looks at you expectantly; waiting to be shoved back. A dynamic absolutely of our times.”—Joseph Darlington, Manchester Review of Books

“Literature would be dead if it weren’t for publishers like Equus Press, a second-to-none specialist in narrative innovation, unique voices, and marginalized lines of flight. The latest contribution to the Equus project, Philip O’Neil’s MENTAL SHRAPNEL, is a refreshing, remarkable departure from the overwhelming horde of canned, lifeless fiction that threatens to eat literary history whole. O’Neil’s first novel makes almost everything else look like dreck. It’s precisely what the corpse of modern literature needs to bring it back to life.”—D. Harlan Wilson

“Sinequanon threads of Gonzo journalism tie hot shards of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid fantasies to Kingsley Amis’ insouciant British humour in this 400-page pill, as we are flung between war-torn Sarajevo & post-communist Prague between the early 90s & the late 00s. A war correspondent come psychotherapist, Christopher Mahler, is sequestered into a theatrical vortex of alternating comedic & tragic skirmishes. In an attempt to uncover the true cause of his fugue states, Chris delves into the kind of analysis which promises to drag him & the reader screaming into an ignominious past of flak jackets fantastic journeys & love lost in unaccountable circumstances. Many a seemly character enters & exits this cathartic trip as our sardonic protagonist Randle McMurphies his way through a Dante’s Inferno of lost souls. With sensitive, lyrical wit O’Neil teases the most devastating (ir)realities into palatable, poetic medicine. Mental Shrapnel is the author’s nostalgic suicide letter to Prague, left on a mantle piece over the flaming fires of hell,  propped up by a bowl of rotting oranges.”—Michael Rowland

“Equal parts memoir, war narrative, & love story, Mental Shrapnel takes you deep into the wounded psyche of a man forced to put himself back together when the health care “system” fails him completely. Reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestDown Below, or Kleinzeit, Mental Shrapnel paints a darkly humorous portrait of a fractured mind in a damaged healthcare system. Replete with a cast of larger-than-life characters, patients, junkies, & war criminals, Mental Shrapnel probes the darkest recesses of the human psyche in this story of a dizzying freefall into madness and a painful climb back to sanity – an intense vertiginous journey that will leave readers in doubt of their own sanity as much as Chris’s. Mental Shrapnel also paints an intimate nuanced picture of the city of Prague that will be instantly recognizable to longtime residents or serve as a psychedelic walking tour for those who have never traversed the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the city. Not a novel for the faint of heart, but still a compelling read full of wit, heart, and history.”—Jeffrey Howe

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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
May 2023
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