The sledgehammer approach to fiction

2009-02-11 00:00

ALASTAIR Campbell, author of The Blair Years and now this novel, is best known as New Labour’s ruthless spin doctor in the Tony Blair days — a clever, devious and, even in the unattractive world of political manipulation, apparently nasty piece of work.

For his fictional debut, he has taken a few days in the life of psychiatrist Professor Martin Sturrock, a concerned and caring man but who, like so many of those he treats, is battling the demons of depression as well as a sketchily drawn obsession with a prostitute.

His patients include a likeable depressive, an alcoholic cabinet minister ripe to be set up for a sex scandal, an immigrant traumatised by rape, and a burn victim. Sturrock cares, but by taking on the burdens of others, he increases his own to breaking point.

Campbell has publicly discussed his own brush with depression and alcoholism, so presumably he is writing of what he knows.

The first half is unrelenting gloom, but once all the elements are in place, the turnaround that Sturrock seems to achieve for his patients is far too glib. They and the readers are propelled into an unlikely age of miracles And there is a brutality to the story. It is as if Campbell is determined to bend his characters to his will, as he was once determined to bend the members of the Parliamentary press. It is a sledgehammer approach to writing fiction.

And the way Campbell writes is not appealing either — he has

little feel for language.

All in all, if it wasn’t for the name of the author, I have my doubts that All in the Mind would have found a publisher. And it would not have been missed.

ALASTAIR Campbell, author of The Blair Years and now this novel, is best known as New Labour’s ruthless spin doctor in the Tony Blair days — a clever, devious and, even in the unattractive world of political manipulation, apparently nasty piece of work.

For his fictional debut, he has taken a few days in the life of psychiatrist Professor Martin Sturrock, a concerned and caring man but who, like so many of those he treats, is battling the demons of depression as well as a sketchily drawn obsession with a prostitute.

His patients include a likeable depressive, an alcoholic cabinet minister ripe to be set up for a sex scandal, an immigrant traumatised by rape, and a burn victim. Sturrock cares, but by taking on the burdens of others, he increases his own to breaking point.

Campbell has publicly discussed his own brush with depression and alcoholism, so presumably he is writing of what he knows.

The first half is unrelenting gloom, but once all the elements are in place, the turnaround that Sturrock seems to achieve for his patients is far too glib. They and the readers are propelled into an unlikely age of miracles And there is a brutality to the story. It is as if Campbell is determined to bend his characters to his will, as he was once determined to bend the members of the Parliamentary press. It is a sledgehammer approach to writing fiction.

And the way Campbell writes is not appealing either — he has

little feel for language.

All in all, if it wasn’t for the name of the author, I have my doubts that All in the Mind would have found a publisher. And it would not have been missed.

Margaret von Klemperer

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