I tried to be as neutral as possible when reading this book.
Alastair Campbell, for those who don’t know, was the Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair, during the years 1997-2003, a period that culminated in the ill conceived Iraq War of 2003. So, my main reason for reading the book was to see if Alistair Campbell’s fictional work was as strong and persuasive as the literary efforts of the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’.
What I liked about this book:
Alastair has, famously, battled both depression and alcoholism. It is good to read a story that takes these themes but avoids being overtly autobiographical. I liked the sympathetic portrayal of patients, and their psychiatrist, as flawed human beings with strengths and weaknesses, doing the best they can.
The story worked particularly well when dealing with matters of which Alastair Campbell has some personal experience; the alcoholic M.P. being particularly sympathetically portrayed.
The narrative structure was rather complex, involving the individual stories of multiple patients, but the various strands were drawn together into a more-or-less satisfactory conclusion.
What I didn’t like:
For my simple tastes, there were too many characters to empathise with and this led, perversely, to feeling less empathy with any of them.
He failed to avoid some stereotypes: the pushy wife of the alcoholic MP and the nagging wife of the psychiatrist were both very two-dimensional. In fact, none of the female characters were particularly authentic, despite valiant attempts.
Some of the resolutions at the end (and I am thinking particularly of the scarred young girl) were unconvincing.