This is a portrait of a bad psychiatrist. He exploits his patients, conducts experimental therapy, and, all in all, What A Piece Of Work charges the psychiatrist to ‘heal thyself’.
Dr Peter Cyren smokes cigarettes while on duty, so perhaps the doctor’s god-complex belongs to another era, along with the critical R.D Laing anti-psychiatry perspective held by his lover, Fay.
Perhaps if I’d read What A Piece Of Work when it was first published in 1999, before literature and television had offered more complex portraits of psychiatrists and their methods, I would have appreciated the narrative and characterisation of Porter’s verse novel more; as it is, for me, it draws upon untenable stereotypes and misrepresentations of treatment–especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
That said, Porter’s portraits of Peter’s patients, Frank and Penny-Jenny, are true and compassionate, and give rise to the very best verse.