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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 18 July 2017
Really enjoyed this book . It highlighted that mental health issues can touch anyone from all walks of life !
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 April 2016
The combative, even bullying, character of Alastair Campbell is difficult to square with the author of this sensitive and compassionate novel about mental illness [Its title is the same as an informative BBC Radio 4 series on the same topic]. Much has been said about the author’s experience of depression and breakdown and whilst is clearly informs this novel there is nothing formulaic or second hand about its portrayals.

The central character is an eminent London psychiatrist, Professor Martin Sturrock, and the book revolves around a group of his patients - Emily Parks, a young teacher traumatised after being horribly burned; Arta Mehmeti, a refugee from Kosovo who has been raped in London; Hafsatu Sesay, a trafficked prostitute; David Temple, a reclusive warehouse packer; Matthew Noble, a successful QC whose wife has pushed him to seek help for his sex-addiction, and Ralph Hall, the government’s Health Secretary, whose ability is impaired by alcoholism and his paralysing fear that this secret will be revealed. These differing case histories, presented over a weekend, allow the author to present the potential and challenges of mental treatment and the pressures on the professor.

Sturrock himself is facing a crisis, the result of overwork [he is unable to cancel or postpone a consultation and cannot switch off at home], his feelings about a patient and a compulsion to visit prostitutes. To all these must be added the death of an aunt and his mother’s dementia, both of which revive painful memories of his childhood and adolescence.

The style is very readable and the individual stories make compulsive reading. The cases are shown to offer very different challenges and Sturrock, through his use of counseling and cognitive behavioural techniques, and dream analysis, is drawn into each more deeply than, in some cases, is desirable or ethical. Whilst one might have expected the Minister’s story with its combination of alcoholism, politics and media reporting [he takes a swipe at the Sun!] to be the most detailed [and it does offer an insight into how to handle a ministerial resignation] it is the author’s empathy with the three female patients that is particularly surprising and impressive.

This is Campbell’s debut as a novelist and it is very assured, combining past and present, darkness and humour, and offering genuine insights. It is, however, far more than a semi-autobiographical tract. Perhaps the characters are selected to suit the story but they are sufficiently complex to allow the reader to empathise with their situations and the reactions of their families and friends. The ending of the novel is a real tour de force and is both thought provoking and sensitive.

My recollection is the consultations between psychiatrist and his patients are authentic, although the story is unfolded over just a few days when trust between the parties has already been established. I can empathise, and recall, the inner mental turmoil, confusion and feeling of worthlessness - all clearly written by someone who has had experience of depression. Campbell makes very clear Sturrock’s thinking as he seeks to find the best way forward and the dangers of moving too quickly or of allowing his personal feelings to become intermingled with his professional demands. Feelings of inadequacy, failure and, above all, anger are very powerfully revealed though dialogue and internal reflections. The process of counseling is demystified.

Even the less sympathetic characters - the lawyer and politician - offer revealing insights into self-deception. The greatest difficulty is for the patient to recognise that they are ill, need help and seek it. Thereafter, the treatments are not guaranteed to be successful and must be monitored but this book offers real hope. Perhaps one less successful case might have been advisable?

In addition to being an insightful read, it is to be hoped that this book will help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Although understandable within the focus of this book, it is disappointing that it does not address the situation of mental health amongst children and adolescents, which is a particular problem. It also does not touch on the political, social and health issues of mental health in the community. However, such broadening would change the nature of this excellent novel.
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on 10 September 2012
I picked this up because my friend, Meg, pressed it upon me, and because I've already read Campbell's "The Happy Depressive" and was interested to read his novel on the subject. I was not disappointed. Martin Sturrock is a top psychiatrist, entrusted with the care of a range of people, from a Kosovan refugee to a Cabinet Minister, and his favourite patient, David, who expresses his own and Martin's depression in a way that is both lyrical and precise.

Over the course of a long weekend, several lives appear to start to unravel, including Sturrock's own, spiralling into boundaries being overstepped in a variety of ways, both positive and negative. Thoughtful, very perceptive about men's and women's experiences, and with a surprise denouement that is part of a schema or process of surprises that leave the book with a hopeful and positive ending, notwithstanding the somewhat brutal events along the way.

Recommended, especially for the eloquent portrayal of depression.
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on 11 February 2009
To be honest I've never liked Alastair Campbell. But I'm not interested in the author, I'm reviewing the book.

Also, for the record, I'm Bipolar 1.

At times the book made me laugh outload, and at other times you can't help feel a strong connection to the characters who are having a bad time.
I found the end of the book uplifting, and it has made me see the people in the mental health services in a more positive light.

This book should be compulsory reading for those who secretly think that depressives are just 'weak people', and come out with stupid phrases like 'pull yoursel together'. Intelligent people will enjoy it too.
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on 9 November 2014
I bought this book more to find out about the mind of Alastair Campbell than anything the story, per se, promised to deliver. I find him a fascinating figure, regardless of whether people liked him as a politician or not. I wasn't disappointed with this book.

The story is plausible with a nice bit of interweaving between the (seemingly) many central characters. Campbell also seems to ooze insight into mental issues he surely couldn't have encountered first hand (the trauma of the lady who was raped or the burns' victim, for example), and I sense that it might have been cathartic for him to put to paper the predicaments and mind-sets of the chronic depressive and alcoholic. He also seems pretty good at understanding things from a psychiatrist's point of view. Some of the latter is maybe from personal experience, but there's much more of a 3D representation of the psychiatrist in this book surely than anyone might of taken from a few one-on-one sessions).

Campbell takes on a broad swathe of topics face on and deals with them honestly and pretty incisively - massive bouts of depressive, alcoholism, social anxiety, personal relationships, forgiveness, and themes on empathy and the idea that we are all subject to similar problems despite (or perhaps because of) our careers, social standing and outward personalities.

Sort of knowing who the author is it's quite hard to categorize the book. Is it purely a satire and/or comment on a microcosm of society (doubtful - there seems to be too much of him in it for that), a look at psychology, philosophy, or largely a memoir, We'd have to ask him personally.

I couldn't give it a 5* as to do so would to be to place the book in the realms of the likes of Kafka, Dostoevsky, Camus, Dickens et al and I don't think Campbell is quite at their level (although if he dedicated his life to writing I see no reason why he couldn't be), and his style of writing needs brushing up on - some of it feels a bit flat at times. A thought occurred to me that I wondered how well, despite being a 19th century poet, William Wordsworth could have enhanced the use of the language.

Overall, worth your money and time and a very good first effort at a piece of fiction (if we can call it that)
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on 10 November 2008
As a person that has suffered depression in the past and as someone that treats clients that are currently battling their way through mental health issues, I found this book to be a fascinating insight into the world of sufferers and into the potential problems that the professionals that treat them may obtain through their working life.

For me the book was excellent and somewhat important. You see, as a therapist one of the challenges in treating people with depression, is the way that people react to their illnesses (sometimes not even seeing them as ill at all, but attention seeking). For far too long many people have been misunderstood when they convey to friends and family that they are suffering from a mental health issue such as depression. This book would certainly help to educate those friends and family members that are willing to be open minded and to learn.

All of the story lines from the various characters were handled with respect and where delivered very interestingly.

I am looking forward to this becoming a film on the small screen sometime in the future and awaiting eagerly the announcement of Campbell's next novel.

I would be interested to hear the views of other therapists or sufferers of mental health issues on this book.


Richard MacKenzie
Author of Self-Change Hypnosis
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on 25 March 2014

Cover 4/5 Title, Author's name as an attractor and ghostly face ... yes a good cover. Cover comments by Stephen Fry and Anne Robinson made me buy the book and what is stated on the cover is for a change accurate in the reading.


Given previous association of author with Tony Blair rather wary but as with Jeffrey Archer one cannot deny both their skill with words and I have liked seeing him on Anne Robinson's book programme. The character structure used in this book I find very good. Lots of people in glass houses. Good ingredients mixed skillfully in some thought provoking situations and peoples' reactions to both physical and mental damage. Interesting to compare this supposed fiction with Declan Henry's Why Bipolar case studies the Allrighters non fiction book of 2013. Clearly some real people being characterised here, including the author.

Book started on a real high, but has leveled out a little so I read on in high hopes of a satisfactory middle and ending ...

In running for Allrighters fiction book of 2014

Finished 27 3 14

... Continued going downhill until a pick up the last quarter. Itoo have often wondered how medical people cope with the offloading of their patients' problems and trauma.

Still a good read but fell short of the expected five star rating I thought it might reach at the start of reading. A little worried about reading a book about depression I might as a reader suffer increased levels of depression. The characterisations and interactions rang quite true.

I need to think a little more about the book. Saying a book about depression is enjoyable or entertaining does not feel quite right although I chuckled at some of the text and situations. An educational and thought provoking read may be nearer the mark complimentary, as mentioned before, to the difficult case studies in Declan Henry's Why Bipolar?

Alexander of Allrighters, Leamington Spa Writers and Ywnwab!
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on 8 February 2012
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. When you start reading the background and description of the main character, Martin Sturrock, and his patients, you find yourself getting drawn into their lives, and you start to feel a connection to each and follow their story threads through.
Martin is the Psychiatrist, and it starts out with you thinking he has everything going well and leading a happy and settled life. The longer the book goes on, the more you realise, that like everyone else, he had his demons and flaws, and infact it turns out that depression hits him hard and quickly, so much so that up until the event, you don't think he would go through with suicide.
The ironies are there and shout out at you. Here we are with a psychiatrist who listens to everyone's problems and issues and advises them on how they deal with them, giving his patients an outlet for their problems, and yet who does the psychiatrist turn to. The fact that he doesn't feel loved by those closest to him, his family, is ironic, when at his funeral, the church is packed by all those who have relied on him so much. Stella his wife said many years ago that he has time for all his patients and yet he doesn't give the time to his family and this is played out at the funeral when all his patients and colleagues stand up during the ceremony, and it is Stella and the family who feel like they are the ones on the outside.
Of the patients, the two who come across to me the strongest are David Temple, and Ralph Hall, both of whom have powerful storylines of their own. David suffers from depression and with the help of Martin Sturrock finds the strength to write his piece about humility, which Martin reads and finds that of all his patients it is David who can relate most to his own problems.
Ralph Hall, the minister for health, is an alcoholic and leads, what comes out as a very sordid and sad life. It just goes to show that for the people who we think have everything going for them, they are actually carrying round a lot of issues themselves. The book details Ralph's fall from grace and subsequent hitting rock bottom, yet at the end at the funeral, he has found the strength, thanks to Martin, to admit to his alcoholism, tackle it head on, and dedicate his fight and cure to Martin. We are left feeling hope for both Ralph and David.
My lasting thoughts on this are that you never truly know what is going on in people's lives and minds, whatever the outward appearance maybe. What everyone needs though is someone to talk to for support, love and to share their problems with.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 August 2012
So - can Tony Blair's spin-master write? Yes he can. He portrays his central character as a caring psychiatrist, Martin Sturrock, who has plenty of his own problems. As well as a failing marriage (and absolutely everyone in this book has a failing marriage) he is spiralling downwards into depression while trying to treat his patients, be a good father, and try to stop his addiction to prostitutes.

Somehow, the problem of a man in such a conflicted state - one of his patients is the victim of a rapist, another has been rescued from a forced prostitution racket - carries the guilt of his own hidden failings which are slowly eating him away from the inside. Ironically, it appears, as he disintegrates many of his patients seem to be recovering. Emily, a young girl caught in a fire, her beauty marred by third degree burns to one side of her face, finds that she can face the world again and doesn't have to hide away. A drink-sodden cabinet minister is safely salted away in a clinic. And a young man learns that being humble can be a good thing.

I felt the ending was a bit self-serving a bit too slavishly eulogistic - wasn't there anyone who didn't like Sturrock? I wasn't too keen on him myself, given the central concept that this was a serial client of prostitutes who was simultaneously treating women who had experienced rape/forced prostitution. There`s an uncomfortable juxtaposition for you.
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on 25 February 2014
I was a bit hesitant about reading this book. As someone with experience of depression, I wasn't sure if I would find the story a little uncomfortable to read. But I needn't have worried.The characters are all very believable, and being able to read their thoughts actually was quite cathartic as I could recognise a lot of my own experiences. Alistair Campbell is writing from first hand knowledge and it shows.
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