On the couch

Just occasionally you have the odd experience of picking up a book, thinking that you know what it's going to be like, and end up having a completely different experience. This was what happened to me when I started to read Salley Vicker's The Other Side of You, I thought (for some reason best known to myself) that it was going to be a crime novel, but instead got a thought provoking piece of literary fiction. OK, it's not the greatest writing you've ever read, but it was certainly interesting reading for anyone who's ever been analysed, or is, for that matter, interested in the process of analysis.

The story opens with a psychiatrist, David MacBride, looking back to a memorable case - a former patient, Elizabeth Cruikshank, who had attempted to commit suicide. David is met by a largely inpenetrable silence, until a chance remark about a Caravaggio painting enables Elizabeth to tell her story. The central story is fascinating, if sometimes a little obvious. The minor characterisations are brilliant, with a cast of amazing people at the heart of MacBride's professional life. The novel ultimately is about frailty, of the challenges of life, and how people manage to cope with it.

It was a moving read, matter of fact about mental illness, and how so many people manage to struggle through it. It was also about the special relationship between the counselled and the counsellor, and how the relationship can sometimes seem one-way, but can also be a symbiotic experience. Fascinating read - most definitely NOT a crime story, but in spite of being unexpected, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


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