Tilly Brasch’s son Riley liked to ‘decide
his own decides’ as early as kindergarten, when he gave himself
a middle name. Riley hoped this name would help him fit in with his classmates,
but his struggles and suffering would only intensify until his suicide
at age 26.
As early as the prologue, the reader knows of Riley’s fate. Tilly’s
strengths as a writer allow her to portray the demons of Riley’s mental
illness as well as the endearing quirks of her son’s own personality. Riley
comes alive on the page as a complex and lovable character, and her portrait
may help us overcome fears or prejudices of others with mental illness or suicidal
While No Middle Name is a moving tribute and a glimpse of a mother’s grief,
it is also a sharp accounting of how Riley and his family were failed by many
institutions throughout his birth, life and death. The medical profession either
ignored Riley’s condition or treated him as an impersonal subject for batteries
of tests. Christian and Catholic communities looked the other way as Riley was
bullied and beaten throughout his school years. Riley never found adequate care
or protection from the police, psychiatric wards, public and private health systems,
public housing or the government.
Tilly does not blame these institutions for her son’s suicide, rather she
advocates for change, as many of the attitudes and policies towards mental illness
and suicide are the same now as when Riley was born in 1971. Statistically, we
all know someone who struggles with mental illness or suicidal ideation, yet
these topics remain cultural taboos.
No Middle Name moves forward in an almost conversational tone, with simple and
direct language. Anecdotes and memories serve to illustrate Riley’s personality
as well as foreshadow his early death. The book juxtaposes the unfolding chronology
of his life with the startling facts and figures about mental illness and the
Queensland health system.
While Tilly consciously decided to leave her anger behind in earlier drafts,
No Middle Name could gain more dimension and impact with a stronger hint of her
grieving process. In a few instances, tighter editing would have clarified whether
Tilly was relating the story about Riley’s personality or about the manifestations
of his illness.
Overall, No Middle Name succeeds as a readable tribute and an optimistic force
for change. The author donates all proceeds to Stepping Stone Clubhouse, a voluntary
support program run by mentally ill members who empower one another.
-Erica Sontheimer (Writing Queesland, Issue 161)
The subject of troubled modern youth springs graphically to life in a
new book called No Middle Name. Brisbane author Tilly Brasch
candidly details her battle to give meaning to the disturbed world
of her mentally ill son. She lost the fight when he lost hope and took
his own life. This is no cheap tearjerker. It simply illuminates a
problem that is more widespread than any of us realise.
I have just read Tilly’s book and can recommend it to CAPS members
for being particularly illuminating about the problems of accessing Mental
Health services right here in Brisbane. Tilly Brasch does not “pan” Queensland
Health and is in fact constructively working with them right now to bring
about much needed reforms.
I believe her book gives greater substance to CAPS’ goal of improving
and expanding services (by raising money for the Life Promotion Clinic
at AISRAP, as well as the Life Promotion House). This brave book left
me with an even greater awareness of the suffering, cost and devastation
this huge problem causes in our community and the urgency of CAPS continuing
to try our very best to promote and raise awareness about suicide prevention.
— Penny Vandeleur, Secretary, CAPS (Queensland)
In ‘No Middle Name’ Tilly Brasch
provides a heart-rending account of Riley’s short, troubled life.
With great love and affection she graphically relates how the whole family
is affected when someone has a mental illness and how, sadly and short-sightedly,
they are too often ignored by the mental health system.
— Barbara Hocking, Executive Director, SANE Australia
This is an engrossing read (so much so that
I read it all in one go). It is a resounding indictment of the public
mental health system, revealing in the comprehensive story of one representative
case an appalling history of neglect by the authorities. It is also a
very moving story, and it reminded me very much of Anne Deveson’s
biography of her son’s mental illness and suicide (this came out
some years ago, and I’m unfortunately unable to remember the title;
but it received a good deal of publicity, not only because of Deveson’s
public role, but also because she treated the subject in the most uncompromisingly
honest manner. This book seems to be of this same ilk).
This is a wonderful human interest story of the type that appears each
week on ABC television’s Australian Story. It tells of ordinary
people (the narrator and her family) made extraordinary through events
not of their own making. I think that the narrative voice works very
well – it is erudite, never self-pitying but matter-of-fact in
detailing Riley’s disordered conduct and general dysfunctionality.
Tilly’s love for Riley is undeniable, even as she manages to convey
the difficulty of everyday living with such a tortured individual. This
is what basically makes the story so powerful; that the narrator’s
love for her son, and her empathy for his condition drives her to tell
this extraordinary story.
The narrative is well-structured and rarely flags; description and dialogue
are both handled well. There is, happily, little room for sentiment or
melodrama, and this adds to the overall effect; it is above all the story
of a mother (and a family) coping with both a much loved but always difficult
child, and with an unheeding and incredibly unhelpful bureaucratic system.
Everything is recounted or explained in a believable, non-hyperbolic
manner. It seems to me to be a very worthy piece of creative non-fiction,
which should be of interest to quite a wide audience. It is also very
topical, given current (perhaps unending) debates about Queensland – indeed,
Australian – public health systems and their shortcomings.
book is beautifully written, and I wish her every success with it. Given
the appropriate publicity, it should appeal to a wide readership. I certainly
hope that it does.
— Sharyn Pearce, Queensland University of Technology