Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

The Barbellion Prize – Shortlisted


A young woman spends a month taking the waters at a thermal water-based rehabilitation facility in Budapest. On her return to London, she attempts to continue her recovery using an £80 inflatable blue bathtub. The tub becomes a metaphor for the intrusion of disability; a trip hazard in the middle of an unsuitable room, slowly deflating and in constant danger of falling apart. Sanatorium moves through contrasting spaces bathtub to thermal pool, land to water, day to night interlacing memoir, poetry and meditations on the body to create a mesmerising, mercurial debut. ‘There is a dreamlike quality to Abi Palmer’s exquisite Sanatorium. In lucid, gorgeous prose, she tells the story of a body, of illness and of navigating the complicated wellness industry, but ultimately this is a book about what it means to be alive. A striking, experimental debut that will stay with me.’ Sinéad Gleeson

My Review:

Author Abi Palmer is the narrator of her first book Sanatorium (Penned in the Margins). Shortlisted for 2020 The Barbellion Prize and is written in short paragraphs of her experiences of spending a month in a water based rehabilitation programme based in Hungary.

Throughout Sanatorium you get to understand just how important water and floating is to our narrator and there is a dreamlike prose to the narration. When Abi is in the water the sense of pain dissipates as she floats in the water. Abi is in so much pain from the conditions that she suffers from being in the water is an escape.

It is 2017 and the trip to the sanatorium is funded by a research programme and the month she spends here, on return to her home in the UK she decides to buy herself a plastic tub for her home so she can float and ease the pain.

As the writing is in small paragraphs the reader will notice at the top of each page the location that moves from Budapest to London and Chertsey (Surrey). At times the prose is poetic with the use of drawings.

Abi is in so much pain that she cannot walk for too long unaided, the descriptions are vivid and descriptive about living with a chronic illness and learning too trust your body even if your body does not want to work.

This was never meant to be a straightforward memoir which makes Sanatorium so unique and but also important in the way that Abi writes about her life living with chronic pain, there is no self-pity here from Abi but just the beautiful way she writes. At times funny and also sad.

We all know what it is like to slide into a warm bath at the end of a hard day. Just stop for a minute and think what getting into a warm pool is like for someone like Abi living in constant pain and illness.

I read Sanatorium in one sitting and in my own view a strong candidate to win The 2020 Barbellion Prize.

222 Pages.




I am extremely grateful to Cat Mitchell, Penned in the Margins and the Barbellion Prize review copy of Sanatorium by Abi Palmer.

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer is published by Penned in the Margins and was published on 20th April 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through that supports your local independent bookshop. UK

The Barbellion Prize

The Barbellion Prize was founded and dedicated further the voices of ill and disabled writers. This is a prize awarded each year to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness or disability.

The award recognises work submitted for fiction, memoir, biography, poetry or critical non-fiction and can be from around the world in English or translation and can be published work from a publisher or self-published.

Further information about the prize can be found via their website: The Barbellion Prize

You can follow progress of the Barbellion Prize via Twitter: @BarbellionPrize and Instagram: @barbellionprize

The prize is named after the English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion who wrote about living with multiple sclerosis until his death in 1919.

The shortlist for the 2020 Barbellion Prize was announced:

Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer (Published by Virago)

The Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills (published by Fourth Estate)

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer (Published by Penned in the Margins)

Kika & Me by Amit Patel (Published by Pan Macmillan)

The winner of the 2020 Barbellion Prize will be announced on 12th February

The Journal of a Disapointed Man by W. N. P. Barbellion (Penguin Classics)