David McBride, a psychiatrist (who is the narrator) takes on a patient, Elizabeth Cruikshank, who is a failed suicide. Unlike many of the "failed suicides" he has encountered, she really meant it, and was only saved by a fluke set of circumstances. Initially unwilling to talk to him, she eventually opens up and tells her story. But McBride also has skeletons in his own past, and as he talks to Elizabeth, he is forced to remember them and wonder about his own life.
This was a pretty interesting setup for a book, and the first half was quite gripping, because you didn't know what it was that Elizabeth had been so upset by. And when she opens up it feels quite special. But unfortunately after that it went downhill a little bit. I think it's partly the problem that something you've been expecting never quite lives up to expectations: like a horror film being more frightening when you can't see the monster, this book was better when Elizabeth's depression was such a mystery. But that's not to say it wasn't a good book and worth reading.
There were some bits of the book I did remember: in one place he says "The most passionate sex occurs in the mind". Reading this, it seemed a good example of how something in a work of fiction can be presented as a "truth", and the fact that it's spoken by someone who (in real life) you might expect to have insight into human behaviour lends it more credibility. The fact that it's fiction means it doesn't deserve to be treated seriously, but it nevertheless did make me stop and think it over, and wonder whether it might have some truth in it.
Actually I just checked on Amazon and there is a review on there which quotes a few more of these nuggets (e.g. "we never make anyone happy who does not make us happy"), as an example of how the book is "full of wisdom". So it's not just me then.
One of McBride's friends is another psychiatrist, and he makes various observations through the book. He is described as walking across roads and being oblivious to danger from cars, with the result that he frequently gets honked at. McBride says that "A walk with Gus was a definition of a mixed blessing - his company was to die for, and there was always the possibility that one might." I thought this was a nice bit of phrasing, although I don't think it was justified by Gus's behaviour - not that he appeared unpleasant, but there was not much evidence (apart from this sentence) that he was especially good company.
There was a really good quote at the end, in a note that Elizabeth sends David. Unfortunately I've forgotten it, and the book's gone back to the library, so I'll try and find it in a bookshop and copy it out.
Good read, worth looking for more, but the book didn't quite sustain the tension that was set up in the first half.
Completed : 5-Jun-2007 (audiobook)