"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey and "The Quickening Maze" by Adam Foulds are the two most captivating novels I ever read about mental patients and the persons who look after them.
Foulds uses a poetical language and by poetry he tries to understand the intricate and illogical thoughts of some of the patients. He often describes nature also and uses that as a counterpart for the asylum. The infinite forest encloses the village and the asylum so that the asylum becomes a world on its own. An attempt to free one self as an individual is made impossible by the impenetrability of the forest. This symbolizes the inability of some patients ( one of the most important is the nature poet John Clare ) to understand their personal destiny. It's not that they don't see a goal in life, they just don't know how to reach it.
In the first half of the novel you get bits and pieces of several stories, each of them standing on its own with no connection with the other parts of the novel. It's almost as the language of a schizophrenic who takes pieces of several thoughts and brings them together to form a mangled and incomprehensible language. But as the novel continues everything begins to fall into place to form a story-line and a question: where is the borderline between the sane and the insane?
Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, 'The Quickening Maze' centers on the first incarceration of the great nature poet John Clare. After years struggling with alcohol, critical neglect and depression, Clare finds himself in High Beach Private Asylum - an institution run on reformist principles which would later become known as occupational therapy. At the same time another poet, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and becomes entangled in the life and catastrophic schemes of the asylum's owner, the peculiar, charismatic Dr. Matthew Allen.