on 20 April 2006
This is a very fine novel about human frailty. As I read it I felt understood, and it also made me question my own life and the decisions I have made. This author has a knack of opening doors in the mind which have been kept shut, or locked, a rare quality. I don't cry easily but I wept several times reading this. It was recommended to me by a high court judge, who is also not given to tears. It is however a discreet book, not at all sentimental and the writing is beautifully cool and precise.
on 1 April 2006
I have read all Salley Vickers's novels but this is easily the best. It has a command and authority which takes you at once into the story so that you want to read on. The cast of characters is broad, a black schizophrenic cleaner, a bewildered Pakistani Muslim, a man who believes he has a wolf trapped in his skull (my favourite) but the characters who really engross us are Dr David Macbride and his patient Elizabeth. The latter has attempted suicide, which is why she is under this psychiatrist's care but what is most compelling about her story is the way it shadows her doctor's, so that in the end the two stories become intertwined and the two characters are linked by their tragedies. I loved the desciptions of Rome and Caravaggio. There is a very subtle ending. A very rich book and it is also beatifully written.
on 23 April 2006
This entrancing novel held me captivate on a seven hour flight, the same lenght of time as the central dialogue of the narrative between the two protagonists, Dr David McBride and his patient ,Elizabeth. I was utterly gripped by Salley Vickers' capacity to enter the heart and mind of a suicidal patient (an area in which I have professional expertise) and the subtle and convincing way she has that tragedy reflected in the history of David.
She also writes very expressively about place. Rome and Caravaggio are evoked with an authenticity which is one of the joys of reading this very original novelist. And I shan't forget 'It is a hallmark of the damaged that when it comes to their own desire, instinctivey, ruinously, they tend to court its opposite'. This is so true - but I have never seen it expressed so delicately, yet with such penetrating understanding.
on 29 March 2006
I have read all Salley Vickers' novels, and liked them all, especially Miss Garnet. But this is easily the best. I began it at 9 o clock last night and read until I had finished it at 4 am. Seven hours, the length of the conversation David, the narrator, has with Elizabeth, his patient. It is a profoundly moving novel, full of insight and shrewd observation. And wonderfully written. An absolute winner. It will outsell even Miss Garnet.
on 20 March 2006
I was lucky enough to her this author last weekend which inspired me to read this book. Salley Vickers is new to me, but I shall now read all her books. She combines an effortlessly elegant style, which makes her very easy to read, with an unusual understanding of the human mind and heart. The book is written in the persona of a male narrator, a psychiatrist. I am also a doctor, and a man, and I was interested to note how quickly I fell under his spell. He describes a case of a suicide who comes into his care but the story is a story within a story, one that reveals his own infirmities. The book is very well structured without ever seeming to be so. It is also often funny, sagacious and convincing. The end is profundly moving. I loved it.
on 21 April 2006
I bought this as a present for a Salley Vickers fan but began to read it and was hooked, so I've kept ot for myself because on almost every page there is some thought-provoking comment or aside which made me want to read the book again. I ended up with it full of bits of paper marking important passages.
It is a quiet book at first, but like the principal female character, Elizabeth Crookshank, the surface quietness hides a passionate core which, once you reach it, is powerfully affecting. I was disturbed by the story and its sense of sadness, but in a creative way. A wise and haunting book.
on 29 March 2006
'The Other Side of You'is an utterly compelling and deeply moving story that lingers in the mind in a very unusual way. I was totally unable to put it down and afterwards felt as if the cobwebs had been carefully swept away leaving a renewed sense of positivity.
on 27 March 2006
This is a beautfully told story. It is a compelling read, perfectly paced and wise while appearing entirely natural.
Essentially, this is a love story but told through the veil of a psychiatrist's case study. I found the narrator, Dr MacBride, a sympathetic voice and his patient, Elizabeth, a haunting character who begins quite palely and then grows in significance both for the narrator and for us.
I also loved the scenes in Rome, which I know well, and are done very authentically, and aptly, and the descriptions of Caravaggio's paintings are masterly. Salley Vickers is an erudite author who wears her erudtion very lightly. Yet you feel there is real authority here. She isn't like any other living writer I know. The novel had shades of Graham Greene's 'The End of the Affair', though it is much freer and the end is more human and more satisfying.
David McBride, a psychotherapist, has a patient, Elizabeth Cruikshank who had attempted suicide. The story of Elizabeth triggers long-suppressed thoughts about and bleak insights into problems in his own life. As a result he responds to his patient's story with particular intensity and not with the detachment that therapists are supposed to show. Patients often want sessions to continue beyond the consultation hour, but here David wants it also and one session, for example, lasts for seven hours, well into the night. And although long silences in the early stages of the treatment are convincing, in the late stages I found Elizabeth's account of conversations she had had with her lover Thomas too literary, too artistically crafted: people don't speak like that; and that could also be said of a five page long speech by David to his wife Olivia. Events seem to me rather too telescoped: four separate major events happen to David on one day, and on the following day he moves from deep depression to catharsis. What also put me off somewhat is that the story is told by David in the first person, so that the wise reflections he makes from time to time about psychology and about life, especially in about the first half of the book, have about them a slightly vain tone which, perhaps unjustly, made me a little irritated with the author who is herself a psychotherapist - and in the light of that knowledge I had initially to remind myself from time to time that the psychiatrist in this novel is a man and not a woman.
But all that having been said, there are excellent things in the book. The personality of Elizabeth - so painfully lacking in self-esteem and so torn between duty to an unloved husband, children and mother-in-law on the one hand and passion for her lover Thomas on the other - is very well drawn. She has the intuition that some patients have to know what the therapist is not saying. Thomas is an unusual, magnificently forthright and eloquent creation - clearly not only Elizabeth but also both David and Salley Vickers are strongly attracted by him. Gus Galen, too, David's guru, is a meaty and wise character. There is a touching description of how, towards the end Elizabeth and David support each other. (Lesser writers would have inserted a sex scene here.)
As in the author's Miss Garnet's Angel, Italy and Italian art play a considerable part here, though I think she was much better at evoking Venice in that other novel than she is at her somewhat guide-book descriptions of Rome in this one. On the other hand what she sees in Caravaggio in this novel is more profound than what she saw in Guardi in the other one. Part of what Caravaggio means to her, to David and to Elizabeth is the subject, near the end, of the moving lecture David delivers in Rome and then of a further visit to his works in that city. This Part IV of the book is a most satisfying finale and handsomely made up for some of my earlier reservations.
on 14 May 2007
In the first few pages of this book I wondered how it could live up to the five-star reviews, concerned that it might disappoint. But I needn't have worried. I was soon intrigued, wondering what Elizabeth Cruikshank's story, when it came, might reveal and how it might impact on the life and perceptions of Dr David McBride, psychiatrist and narrator of the story.
This is the best Salley Vickers yet, better even than `Miss Garnet's Angel' in my opinion. It is one of the most moving and beautiful books I have read for a long time, an analysis of love found and lost through lack of faith and failure to grasp what is offered before it is too late. Poignantly sad, yet strangely inspiring. Interspersed with the central story is the unfolding of David McBride's own tragic childhood and his vacuous marriage to Olivia, his working life, his devoted cleaner / patient, Lennie, and his friend and mentor, Gus Galen who provides such percipient quotes as, `there's no cure for being alive....' A fast-moving thriller it is not, but it keeps you turning the pages simply by being such an insightful story.
There is too the insight into Caravaggio - his tormented life and his paintings, revealed through Elizabeth Cruikshank's story and as the narrator himself discovers them.
I loved it. Buy it and read it! You can't fail to be moved.