Tuesday, December 02, 2008

All in the Mind by Alistair Campbell

"All in the Mind" is Alistair Campbell's first novel after the Iraq dossier. Like all first novels, it owes a lot to autobiography. Alistair Campbell's interest in psychiatry stems from his own experiences described in the documentary "Cracking Up". However it is not obvious why Alistair Campbell wrote this book. The characters in the book are people he knows well. Campbell does not feel like a man overflowing with stories, instead it feels as though these are stories that need a voice.

The book’s importance lies in the background against which it was written, what it tells us about Campbell's role in government and the people he worked with. Campbell resigned at the time of David Kelly's death and the war in Iraq. It is easy to understand why someone whose values are essentially decent found it difficult to continue in government.

This is not a story about a psychiatrist and his six patients who is it about? Consciously or unconsciously these are paper thin pen portraits of the people around Campbell. The riddle is to put names to names.

The central character, Professor Sturrock is a likeable character who cares more about his patients lives than he does his own personal life, for which he pays the price. Campbell's resignation statement contained the everlasting statement "get a life back for me and my family". In Campbell’s case, it seems likely to be true. Sturrock has a lot in common with Campbell. Sturrock is a man who hears peoples' confessions but has limited power to improve their lot beyond offering bland advice, regular meetings and even, when required, sanctuary in his own home. By the end of the book, Sturrock realises that something in his life has to give, whether it is his patients, his family whose lives are increasing disrupted by his work, or himself.

Who are the other people in the book?

David, the humble factory worker, whose final eulogy on humility has a lesson for us all

Emily Parkes, who Sturrock sees as facially disfigured, a wounded creature, frightened to go out in daylight, fearful of people looking at her, yet desperate to have a normal life. Under his guidance, and despite a number of setbacks, Emily begins to gain some confidence and of all the patients he treats, Emily is the most successful.

Arta Mehmet, a gentle caring refugee from Kosovo, who after being raped by her own countrymen finally learns to forgive them. And then by forgiving her tormentors, she finally starts to heal. However it is too late for Sturrock. He never receives the postcard that Arta’s husbands sends to Sturrock expressing his gratitude.

Hatsatu, whose profession throws Sturrock's own moral values into confusion, is the most powerful character in the book. She is honest about her work, whereas Sturrock’s other patients hide in the shade. She knows what she does, why she does and where she is going. Sturrock not Hatsatu is uncomfortable with her profession. He cannot reconcile the way he himself feels about Hatsatu, with what he knows about her, the way he himself uses prostitutes, and his own shakey moral values. But even at his denouement Sturrock cannot resist a final a visit to a brothel where he longs to encounter Hatsatu.

Matthew may or may not be a sex addict, but his wife has caught him having an affair and this seems a reasonable excuse. Sex addiction is a treatable and almost respectable condition for a man in Matthew’s position. In order to cure his sex addiction, Matthew starts on a fitness regime. Honour seems to be satisfied and Sturrock’s colludes with Matthew in this deception as Matthew does his best to put his affair behind him.

The final patient, Ralph is Secretary of State, whose secret drinking is his downfall. As his secret drinking escapes control, Sturrock takes Ralph into to his home in a desperate last attempt to help him. Ralph’s marriage is on the rocks as he drinks and vomits in Sturrock’s study. Ultimately it is Sturrock’s wife who helps Ralph see some kind of sense and although his career, his chances of becoming Prime Minister and his legacy are dashed, she can at least save his soul.

The answers may be found but not all above ground
My first is in Jelly but never in Joy
My second might drown as she is not a buoy
My third is from Handel but not with a daughter
My fourth is in Burdoch yet no one has caught her
My fifth is in Scott but not from the Highland
My sixth is in Billy with his swift sleight of hand

For those who don’t like riddles my guess is:
Kelly, Brown, Mandelson, Murdoch, Prescott and Blair

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures - The Drinking Years

Copyright (c) Dr. Liz Miller


angus said...

Dr Liz

Interesting, I personally feel that "people" like this write books to get them back in the public eye, because they feel that is where they should be and also the main reason-Money.

They expect thatnwe will rush out and buy their books because they are so "interesting".

Arrogance knows no bounds.

Dr. Liz Miller said...

I agree - but I didn't pay for my copy, got a review copy free ;-)

I hope this book isn't meant to be about psychiatry. Because Alistair Campbell must be the only person in the country who thinks that an NHS professor of psychiatry would see patients who do not have a psychotic illness, for an hour each, on a weekly basis, without even prescribing drugs.

What planet were these boys on????

Anonymous said...

yeah i also got review copy free. :)

Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth, Hampshire said...

Big News Update
Mind Champions


Hush-hush all this Easter week because, as we speak, the ladies of National Mind HQ mull over whether Alastair Campbell deserves to be short-listed to collect this year's Mind Champion award

I presume they'll take into account Alastair Campbell's main charitable commitment will always remain raising funds for Leukaemia Research, not mental health

National Mind's obligations would include, I guess, publicity shots alongside NHS CommCare cases who miraculously escaped the psychiatric system

For example, previous Mind Champions like Stephen Fry and yourself. Plus Mind President, Lord Melvyn Bragg. Even bubbly Ruby Wax, perhaps, all shaking each other by the hand to prove, whatever Madness is, it sure can't be that contagious, can it?

Personally, I'd prefer to see Dr Liz Miller be the first Mind Champion to retain the title two years running. Like Manchester United do, kicking footballs about Old Trafford, all season

Whereas if you're all obliged to hold up a signed promotional copy of Alastair Campbell's novel "Tout est dans la Tete" for the camera, don't be too surprised if you end up looking like a NuLabour spin doctor's team of booksales boosters. Consider yourself warned in advance

Warmly, from Trevor Malcolm in Portsmouth Hampshire, with my compliments

Dr. Liz Miller said...

Of all the people you mention, I would like to see Ruby Wax nominated. Her interest in mental health is sincere and she is presently studying psychology.

Ruby Wax's contribution on the BBS website is excellent. I was truly touched and amazed to have been nominated and voted for.

For my part, it has been good to make new friends working in the area of mental health and, of course I have a book coming out on MindMapping - see MatrixPsychology. Many thanks to all of you who voted for me and who have given me so much support over the years.