Alastair Campbell: ‘All In The Mind’

I WAS invited by The Mail on Sunday last week to write a review of Alastair Campbell’s debut novel. It’s in today’s edition, if you’re interested.

“All In The Mind” is a cracking read. Highly recommended. (That’s a summary, incidentally – not the full review. I may publish it here later.)

UPDATE at 5.50 pm: Et voila:

Given Alastair Campbell’s notorious history of mental health issues, it is perhaps understandable that the publishers of his debut work of fiction, “All In The Mind”, chose to insert the subtitle “A novel”; this is neither a psychological textbook nor, on the face of it, an autobiographical account of the battle with his own demons.

Yet it is infused, on every page, with a level of understanding of the nature of depression and an empathy with its victims that one is never quite sure how much of the detailed, intimate nature of the central characters’ thought processes is the result of research or of experience.

“All In The Mind” is a short novel detailing the lives of its main protagonists over the course of a weekend that is dramatic and consequential for all concerned. There is Arta, an asylum seeker who, having fled Kosova with her husband and child, finds herself the victim of a brutal rape in her adopted homeland; Emily, a young primary school teacher who cannot come to terms with the terrible facial scars she suffered during a house fire; David, a lonely, sensitive and intelligent man whose abandonment as a child by his father seems to be the root cause of his debilitating bouts of depression; and Ralph, a chaotic alcoholic who just doesn’t want to admit it, and whose self-destructive behaviour threatens not only his marriage but his career as a member of the Cabinet.

Linking all of these characters is Professor Martin Sturrock, a revered and successful consultant psychiatrist whose devotion to his patients not only threatens his own home life but hides the fact that he is fighting a few serious demons of his own.

But despite the dark tone of much of the book and the serious issues it seeks to illuminate, “All In The Mind” is often very funny and charming. At least one figure, Matthew Noble QC, is strangely inconsequential to the wider narrative and seems to have been included to lend light relief. But his labelling as a sex addict by his cuckolded wife and his consequent attempts at a “cure” are nevertheless highly entertaining.

It is Campbell’s eloquent and touching depiction of depression’s victims and the description of their thought processes that define this novel; anyone tempted to dismiss mental ill health as somehow less serious than various physical ailments would do well to read “All In The Mind”. Possibly more than once.

He inevitably, and fruitfully, delves into his own political and media background, referring to the prime minister (who we never meet) as “young” and whose strategy for sacking a Cabinet colleague is choreographed for maximum positive publicity. And Campbell can’t resist a dig at the cynicism of the tabloid press with a disparaging reference to The Sun hiding behind a local news agency in an attempt to avoid direct culpability for a “sting” operation against a politician.

The prose flows smoothly and naturally, Campbell showing off writing skills he would not have been able to use to full effect when a tabloid journalist himself. His harrowing depiction of the rape is intimate and personal without being mawkish or explicit.

His most courageous decision as an author, though, is in piling on the paradoxes of his central character. Here is the hero of the piece, a healer who needs healing himself, but who is not only a regular user of prostitutes but who also lusts after one of his own patients who has herself been raped and forced into prostitution.

Campbell’s triumph is in his portrayal of ordinary people’s ordinary lives, and his exploration of the imperfection of heroism. They could only have been successfully delivered by someone with the appropriate levels of skill, sensitivity and empathy, which Campbell clearly has in spades.

For all its dark subject matter, “All In The Mind” is surprisingly uplifting and optimistic. It is also one of the few books I have ever read which has brought me close to tears in its closing pages.

 

“All In The Mind” by Alastair Campbell is published by Hutchinson. Available from Amazon.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Alastair Campbell: ‘All In The Mind’

  1. cornyborny

    You quite sure that’s not the full review? Judging from the 1984 threads, brusqueness to a pitiful degree is your thing.

  2. Andy

    Tom,
    No-one’s interested in this. Argue your viewpoint in the previous 1984 posts. Come one do it .. unless you want to be thought of as complete coward. Put your rebuttal now!

  3. Michael St George

    Tom

    I presume you mean that you were invited last week by the MoS to write a review, not invited by last week’s MoS…………

    “.. a dig at the cynicism of the tabloid press……….to avoid culpability for a sting operation against a politician.” ?

    What new job are you applying for, precisely?

  4. Elrod Eulaham

    Andy, above, is wrong to say that no-one is interested in this. There is no way that I would have seen a review in the Mail on Sunday but I am very interested in the subject, and depression has had a heavy indirect impact on my life. Your review will certainly lead me to reading Alastair Campbell’s book.

  5. Jim

    “No-one’s interested in this”.

    Andy, I’m interested in this.

    So I’d be very grateful if you’d go back and join the rest of the pack on the 1984 posts.

  6. ” It is also one of the few books I have ever read which have brought me close to tears in its closing pages.”

    Try reading 1984 again.

  7. Oh look Tom,

    You’re in the Guardian.

    Not for your review of the drunks book, but your piss poor performance on your own blog

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2008/nov/02/1

  8. cornyborny

    Aha, the full review.

    Wow, hackneyed. I think I prefer the précis.

    Re closing statement [“It is also one of the few books I have ever read which have brought me close to tears in its closing pages”]: I suggest you read more widely. Or develop more sensitivity.

    And fix that grammatical error already.

  9. davidc

    Tom – i suggest you add ‘brave new world’ to your Christmas reading list

    you at least have the honesty to accept and post views contrary to your own unlike the great majority (and that’s not likely to be a word likely to be used much in nulab circles the way things are going) of your collegues from all political parties north and south of the border so, to add to the comments from many others ‘where is your reasoned rebuttal of the posts concerning the erosion under nulab of our civil liberties’?

  10. Frank Davis

    Campbell’s triumph is in his portrayal of ordinary people’s ordinary lives,

    A Kosovan asylum seeker, a scarred primary school teacher, a man abandoned by his father in childhood, a chaotic alcoholic, a psychiatrist, a QC. These are ordinary people living ordinary lives? I don’t know anybody like that. How many ordinary people are QCs? How many ordinary people even know a QC ? Or an asylum seeker? Or a psychiatrist for that matter?

    Campbell obviously knows them. Quite intimately by the sounds of it. Perhaps that’s the problem with the Labour party. They live in a separate reality from the police state the rest of us inhabit. If I was going to portray ordinary people I’d start off with Them.

    I saw them again the other day, shivering in the cold, in the rain, without jackets or coats. The looked out, expressionless, as the great world, busy and purposeful, hurried by on the street. They were lined up along the wall of a business office…

    Now those are real people. You can see them every day in every town in England. They’re not obscure figures from the fringes of society. There are millions of them.

  11. Elrod Eulaham

    Frank, I live in Glasgow and work in a neighbouring county in the NHS, and have a pretty normal social and professional life. But I must be quite odd, because I know a few people who used to be asylum seekers, and a couple of people I went to University with who are now QCs and with whom I still keep in touch, as well as a few psychiatrists. One or two of them still smoke.

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