Sunday, January 04, 2009

book review - All in the Mind

One of the phrases you often hear handed out to those that want to start writing is that you should start by writing what you know. That seems to have been Alistair Campbell’s starting point as he centres his book on a psychiatrist who is himself suffering from depression.

Campbell is of course not just well known for being Tony Blair’s spin doctor and the man who took on the BBC in the weapons of mass destruction ‘sexed-up’ document battle but also someone who suffers from the Black Dog. How do we know that? Well in recent months, no doubt aimed at helping with the eventual appearance of the book, Campbell fronted a documentary about depression.

At the centre of the web is the poor Doctor Sturrock who wants to heal the sick but is failing to look after himself. Through a roster of patients ranging from the burns victim, the alcoholic, rape victim and depressive Campbell weaves in and out of a couple of days in the doctor’s life.

Part of the problem is that half the time you wonder which character is closer to Campbell himself with the boozy politician probably close. But because of the day structure to the novel and the medical theme I couldn’t help but feel reminded of Saturday by Ian McEwan.

In terms of the outcomes of the story they are powerful enough and designed to make you think not just about mental illness but those who spend their time trying to treat it.

No doubt the focus of most readers was clouded by Campbell himself being such a personality but if anything his experience is key to the book and the baggage he has needs to be brought along to make the book work. I felt that this is one of those razor edge novels that will either mark the start of something or the end of an ambition.

It would be good if it were the latter because it would be good to see what Campbell turns up if he really started digging in his creative mine.

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