10th Oct 2012
My Three Favourite… Books About Depression
There are some brilliant books about depression out there. From the I’m-sure-its-brilliant-and-I-will-get-round-to-it-one-day The Bell Jar (I know, I know) to my favourite short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, women writing about their depression is a long-running trend.
This year sees the first book in three years from Marian Keyes, one of my favourite chick lit author, with The Mystery of Mercy Close. Keyes talks openly about her depression, and how her relapse in 2009 meant she was unable to work, or even get out of bed.
Her openness and honesty about depression, especially on her blog and in interviews, has been incredibly important in lifting the stigma surrounding mental health.
Her latest book centres around the youngest of her long-running characters, the Walsh sisters. Helen Walsh is a sarcastic, acid tongued misanthrope whose general hatred for the human race (who for the most part she wants to hit with a shovel) does not exclude herself.
Her depression, especially the way she describes how others treat her when she talks about her depression, is recounted in a way that seems very personal and cathartic.
Although Mercy Close isn’t as funny or as fast-paced as some of her books (think more Rachel’s Holiday than Last Chance Saloon) it is a very, very good and important book that will hopefully aid people’s understanding of what it means to be depressed.
If you want books that are a little less dialogue-driven and a little more structurally exciting, I would recommend Salley Vickers. Her fourth novel, The Other Side of You, centres on the relationship between Elizabeth Cruikshank, who has recently survived a suicide attempt, and her psychiatrist David McBride.
Vickers’ books often take their inspiration from artwork, in this case the works of Caravaggio. Both David and Elizabeth are haunted by losses, and have been unable to come to terms with their grief.
Elizabeth’s ever-so-logical explanations of her desire to die might seem a little like they come straight out of a psychiatry textbook (in fact Vickers is a former psychoanalyst) but her writing is so beautiful, and her links between how we experience art and love so profound, that the result is a lovely, thought-provoking book.
The book opens with Alice Raikes walking into the traffic and ending up in a coma – a tragic accident or suicide attempt? As her family gather round her bedside, the story moves back and forth from Alice’s life, her mother and grandmother’s and Alice’s passionate relationship with journalist John.
The parts that describe Alice’s breakdown, and the reasons behind it, wring your heart out, so you’ll need to keep those tissues at the ready.
John and Alice are one of my favourite fictional couples and reading this book as a teenager made me see romance and love in a totally different way to the usual staring-into-each-other’s-eyes variety so popular in lit, TV and film.
O’Farrell is, again, a wonderful writer, though some of her books are better than others, but her themes of sadness, loss and mental health run throughout.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox also looks at the history of mental health in Scotland, and is an angry, bitter story of how being different marks you out. Fans of The Yellow Wallpaper should seek it out.
Which books dealing with depression and other mental health issues would you recommend?
If you are concerned about your own mental health, or that of a friend or family member, here are some helplines and other resources that might be useful to you.