Sunday Short: Marie Brennan's Mad Maudlin

Sunday, September 21, 2014
This Sunday's short is Marie Brennan's Mad Maudlin, published on Previously, I've read Brennan's novel A Natural History of Dragons, which I would recommend to any fan of alternative histories / dragons / Victorian era stories -- an awesome mix, right?

This short starts with a psychiatrist named Peter who is meeting a newly admitted patient who came to the hospital with blood on her clothes that were not her own. She calls herself Mad Maudlin and recites verses of a folksong that Peter doesn't recognize from his youth until later that evening.
For to see mad Tom o’ Bedlam
Ten thousand miles I’ve traveled
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes
For to save her shoes from gravel.
Illustration by Iain McCaig,
I found this story as creepy as all get out, but in a good way. We can hear Peter's inner dialogue as he first meets and interacts with Maud, as he thinks about the song -- a song about insanity, as he tries to help treat Maud. We follow Peter as he offers to help her and realizes that he has volunteered much more than intended. This twisty turny tale also touches on some interesting psychiatric ideas (which former psych genetics student me found really interesting!) and a big dose of mythology to boot.
Frankly, this story may be one of my all-time favorite short stories. If you are looking for a little haunting thriller to read (especially with October coming up), I'd recommend you check this one out. 
Rating: 5/5
Favorite line: 
The logical conclusion, then, was that Maud wasn’t schizophrenic at all. But she was: Peter knew that, as firmly as he knew his own name. Even though it wrenched his brain, trying to hold both contradictory truths at once. If Maud’s delusions were real, then she wasn’t mad. But she was mad—both creator of and created by this world she’d dragged him into. You’d have to be mad yourself, to wrap your brain around that.
Archetypal figures of lunacy. Mad Maudlin, and Tom o’ Bedlam. The only way for them to exist was to be both at once: insane, and also true.
Next week's Sunday Short will be  Ken Liu's award winning short story Paper Menagerie, reprinted in io9. Ken Liu is translating The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, which is coming to Tor this October. This novel is the first volume of the most popular hard scifi series in China, and it has been on my definite to-read list since hearing about the translation! 

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