All in the Mind by Alastair Campbell

This is Alastair Campbell’s first novel. He has written a non-fiction book called ‘The Blair Years‘, which I presume is about Tony Blair. I don’t know what that was like, but ‘All in the Mind’ is good; I would even say very good.

I might be biased as the book is about depression and I always am fascinated by books on the subject (not because I am morbid, but because I battle with depression and it is a relief to read about others with it). This author sure knows depression. He must suffer from it himself, because I can’t believe he could have such insight into mental disease without having experienced it himself.

While the novel might have depression as its subject, I didn’t find this a heavy read. The main character is a psychiatrist called Martin Sturrock, considered to be one of the best in London. He treats a variety of patients, some of whom we get to know. There is Emily, who is severely disfigured after being caught in a fire; there is Arta, a Kosovan refugee, who was raped after emigrating to the UK; there is David who battles with severe depression; there is Ralph, an MP with a drinking problem, and there is Matthew whose wife believes he is a sex addict. All of these people see Dr Sturrock and find him to be the most understanding, gentle and insightful psychiatrist. They are well developed characters and, as I was reading, I found I was able to imagine what each one looked like in my mind.

Yet none of them knows that Martin Sturrock suffers from severe depression himself. He has bottled it up and denied it most his life, allowing his professional life to bite into family time, thereby alienating his wife and children. He struggles to stay on top of the depression and now allow it to encroach on his life.

During the time we are exposed to the characters in the novel, we see them in consultation with Martin and in each case, Martin manages to upset his patient. His mind is depressed, he battles concentrating and becomes impatient, so he grabs at ideas and throws them at his patients with a brusqueness that they are not used to.

As Martin’s life starts to unravel, his patients start to look at their own problems and slowly begin to heal as a result of his challenging them during their sessions with him. But as they begin to heal, Martin’s mental health worsens and psychotic thoughts start to take over his brain. His one attempt at helping himself is to contact his patient, David. He had always thought that David was able to articulate his depression so well that David should understand what Martin is going through and be able to help him. Yet David doesn’t pick up his phone and Martin is left on his own with his rambling mad brain. I won’t disclose the ending of the book, as it would spoil it for you.

On the back of the book, one of the critics writes that the book is written with ‘great skill and much humour’. I agree with the great skill, although I am not sure about the humour bit. It is easy to read, despite its heavy subject matter, but I did not find myself laughing at it (although I very seldom laugh out loud when reading). It is written, however, in a delightfully British self-deprecating way which might be why it has been described as humourous.

I found it to be a satisfying read, one with great insight and sensitivity about a subject that still has taboos surrounding it. Alastair Campbell does not glamourise mental health problems, which makes the novel all the more plausible and likeable. Read  it whether you have depression or not, as the plot is compelling enough, and the characters well-rounded enough, to make it a fascinating book that will provide great insight in the issue of mental health.

I hope he’s working on a second novel.

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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, part-time librarian. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children. Or my cats. Or my dog. I read books and look after others.

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