Category: Alistair Campbell

book review – All in the Mind


One of the phrases you often hear handed out to those that want to start writing is that you should start by writing what you know. That seems to have been Alistair Campbell’s starting point as he centres his book on a psychiatrist who is himself suffering from depression.

Campbell is of course not just well known for being Tony Blair’s spin doctor and the man who took on the BBC in the weapons of mass destruction ‘sexed-up’ document battle but also someone who suffers from the Black Dog. How do we know that? Well in recent months, no doubt aimed at helping with the eventual appearance of the book, Campbell fronted a documentary about depression.

At the centre of the web is the poor Doctor Sturrock who wants to heal the sick but is failing to look after himself. Through a roster of patients ranging from the burns victim, the alcoholic, rape victim and depressive Campbell weaves in and out of a couple of days in the doctor’s life.

Part of the problem is that half the time you wonder which character is closer to Campbell himself with the boozy politician probably close. But because of the day structure to the novel and the medical theme I couldn’t help but feel reminded of Saturday by Ian McEwan.

In terms of the outcomes of the story they are powerful enough and designed to make you think not just about mental illness but those who spend their time trying to treat it.

No doubt the focus of most readers was clouded by Campbell himself being such a personality but if anything his experience is key to the book and the baggage he has needs to be brought along to make the book work. I felt that this is one of those razor edge novels that will either mark the start of something or the end of an ambition.

It would be good if it were the latter because it would be good to see what Campbell turns up if he really started digging in his creative mine.

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book review – All in the Mind


One of the phrases you often hear handed out to those that want to start writing is that you should start by writing what you know. That seems to have been Alistair Campbell’s starting point as he centres his book on a psychiatrist who is himself suffering from depression.

Campbell is of course not just well known for being Tony Blair’s spin doctor and the man who took on the BBC in the weapons of mass destruction ‘sexed-up’ document battle but also someone who suffers from the Black Dog. How do we know that? Well in recent months, no doubt aimed at helping with the eventual appearance of the book, Campbell fronted a documentary about depression.

At the centre of the web is the poor Doctor Sturrock who wants to heal the sick but is failing to look after himself. Through a roster of patients ranging from the burns victim, the alcoholic, rape victim and depressive Campbell weaves in and out of a couple of days in the doctor’s life.

Part of the problem is that half the time you wonder which character is closer to Campbell himself with the boozy politician probably close. But because of the day structure to the novel and the medical theme I couldn’t help but feel reminded of Saturday by Ian McEwan.

In terms of the outcomes of the story they are powerful enough and designed to make you think not just about mental illness but those who spend their time trying to treat it.

No doubt the focus of most readers was clouded by Campbell himself being such a personality but if anything his experience is key to the book and the baggage he has needs to be brought along to make the book work. I felt that this is one of those razor edge novels that will either mark the start of something or the end of an ambition.

It would be good if it were the latter because it would be good to see what Campbell turns up if he really started digging in his creative mine.

All in the Mind – post V

The ending of this book is a severe test of Campbell’s ambitions to try and describe what must be almost indescribable – the depths of depression. He talks of shards of glass grumbling as the world implodes and the sufferer is left without anywhere to turn.

Ironically although my job verges on the mind numbing sometimes and I often feel that things are black I understood that I have not got the anything to really complain about. But for those that do the choice between living and dying seems to be blurred about no so much taking your own life but just taking a route out of the bottomless pain.

The final scenes are powerful and moving and this book is clearly written not just to share the experience of depression but also to say thank you to those that helped the author come to terms with his problems.

We often focus on the sufferer and the question of whether or not they have improved but rarely does the same attention get given to those treating them. If this book has a lasting legacy it will be to generate more understanding of depression and more sympathy for those that are trying not only to live with it, but also help those that are to conquer it.

A review will follow soon…

All in the Mind – post III

The joke that might be running through this is that despite his apparent sense of failure the psychiatrist has actually managed to get through to his patients and change their lives for the better.

In terms of the burns victim she ventures outside for the first time; the depression sufferer starts to come to terms with humility and the rape victim starts to see the doctor rather than just the rapist in her dreams.

Even the politician, who is embroiled in a sex scandal, is in a better position because from rock bottom he has the option to acknowledge his problems and try to rebuild his life.

The only person who is suffering is the psychiatrist who realises that his marriage is effectively defunct and his career has been ultimately quite a selfish activity.

What you pick up loud and clear from this is the mental illness is quite a selfish thing from the point of view that it is very difficult for family members to reach the sufferer and the patient spends a great deal of time concentrating on how they feel.

There are clear benefits from navel gazing if you can look up and make positive changes. But it becomes dangerous when you never look up.

More tomorrow…

All in the Mind – post II

A trip to a brothel after a day of failure ends the day for the psychiatrist but ironically for his patients it seems that he did not do as badly as he thought leaving them with plenty to ponder. But the looming funeral of his aunt starts Sturrock on a downer and he is starting to lose any grip he had with his wife doing her best to push him over the edge with her incessant nagging and trivial tasks.

Having established all the main characters and their relationships towards each other the writing starts to feel slightly more relaxed with it clearly building towards some sort of crescendo.

Have to confess that despite some depressing (pardon the pun) storylines this is a fairly enjoyable read and Campbell is clearly leaning heavily on personal experience to make it feel as totally believable as it does.

More tomorrow…

All in the Mind – post I

Campbell starts to weave the story together with alternate chapters introducing the patients heading in for consultations. There is a burns victim who hates how her injuries have undermined her life and confidence, a depressive, a rape victim and a sex addict.

But the real patient is the psychiatrist Sturrock who is starting to fall apart and when ever the story concentrates on him it becomes more interesting. He seems to be stuck with an obsessive wife, suffers from depression and is lusting after one of his patients.

The one problem though with a book that is about psychatiry is that it can be fairly depressing reading. There is a black humour lurking behind the story but there are also individual scenarios that can be uncomfortable reading. Mind you they are handled with sensitivity.

What you really want to know is whether or not just like his depressed patient Sturrock will lose it and become a danger to others.

More tomorrow…

First chapter, first impression – All in the Mind

This might be unfashionable but I have to admit a liking for Alistair Campbell. He always reminded me of one of those preachers who stood up and spouted graphic warnings about hell. In a world where it was about what was left unsaid he had a great ability to steam in and simply say it.

So it is with interest that I pick up his first novel. Following in the wake of the Blair years this is Campbell turning his hand to fiction and the subject seems to be something close to his heart.

The book starts with an introduction to Professor Martin Sturrock who is about to start his Friday before he is detained from heading into work as a psychiatrist but having a row with his wife and a phone call from his cousin informing him that his aunt has died.

The scene is set with a psychiatrist who is himself suffering from depression. He struggles outside of his environment in his clinic and once there he takes comfort from meeting people more depressed than himself.

A few pages in and you want to see where it is going. More tomorrow…