Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Journalist Marianne Power decides to get her life in order with the use of self-help books. She plans to read one self-help book a month and follow their suggestions for the whole of that month to see what, if anything, actually works.

I expected a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek look at the huge self-help market, and although the book started off that way, it soon became apparent that this experiment was causing more problems than solutions for Marianne, and in fact there were some upsetting moments. It was a fascinating read, and definitely helped sort the wheat from the chaff – there are a LOT of people out there making a lot of money out of other people’s desire to improve or change their life, and some of them just made me really angry as they are so obviously taking advantage of their readers. Tony Robbins for example, who promises to change your life at one of his events – where the cheapest tickets are £500!! And ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, which tells you that if you want something to happen, you just have to imagine that it has. Send yourself a fake cheque for a lot of money, and actual money will be bestowed! Yes, seriously.

Marianne Power is an engaging and likeable narrator, and this book certainly provided a lot of food for thought. I recommend it to all.

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The word ‘legend’ is bandied about too frequently these days – I’ve seen it used to describe reality tv stars, YouTube ‘stars’ and all manner of others which in truth it should not be used for – but sometimes the word is entirely fitting and Bruce Springsteen is one of those people truly deserving of the title. Whether you like his music or not, his songs are familiar to all, for their stories of blue-collar working class families and their struggles, from the anti-Vietnam protest song Born in the USA, to the Oscar winning Streets of Philadelphia from the groundbreaking 1993 Tom Hanks film about AIDS.

Bruce’s autobiography is a joy to read – not only does he discuss his own working class, blue collar background, and his rise to success, he is also amazingly candid about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He talks with obvious love and gratitude about his wife Patti Scialfa and their three children, and with open-ness about his troubled relationship with his father, who nonetheless he loved and loves very deeply.

His passion for his craft comes through on every page (no surprise to anyone who has listened to his music), as well as his enduring friendships with the many people who he has played with and alongside. I loved that he was starstruck, even at the height of his own success, when meeting the Rolling Stones!

Again – this will be no surprise for anyone who listens to Bruce’s lyrics – but he is a very talented author, likeable and amusing, and unapologetic…not that he has anything to be apologetic about. I always felt that Bruce was one of the good guys, and this book reinforces that view.

If you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen, or if you just really like reading autobiographies, I highly recommend this one.

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Allison Johnson (usually referred to here as ‘the girl’) as desperately in need of escape from her current life. Pregnant, stuck in an abusive relationship with boyfriend Jimmy and heavily dependent on alcohol, she decides to move away from Las Vegas to Reno to make a fresh start. As is always the way though, she carries her demons with her.

This book charts Allison’s life in Reno, from a detached, third-person point of view. It follows her as she decides what to do with her baby, finds work as a waitress, strikes up tentative friendships, and unfortunately, continues to drink heavily and end up in dangerous situations with unpleasant men. In her darkest hours, she imagines conversations with her favourite film star Paul Newman, and these conversations help her through.

As I always do when I finish any book, I looked for reviews of this online, and the vast majority I read were hugely positive. I really wanted to like this book – and there are lots of positives about it. The short abrupt chapters and eloquent writing meant that I flew through chunks of it really quickly and I thought it captured the late night smoky atmosphere of Reno pretty well (although I’ve never actually been there, ha!)….but the aforementioned detachment, and the very spare style of writing meant that I never engaged with any of the characters, because I never felt that they were fully fleshed out. And it is just so depressing and exhausting to read!! Just when I thought things were going to turn around for Allison, she screws it up again.

Although it’s a quick read, it doesn’t exactly flow like a novel, and often felt more like a series of vignettes from Allison’s life with a connecting theme running through them. I love Paul Newman, but I also didn’t see the point of her imaginary conversations with him.

So all in all, perhaps this was not the book for me. I can see why some people enjoyed it, but by the end of it, my main feeling was relief that it was finished.


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On New Years Eve, four people meet up on the top of Toppers House – a block of flats in London, which is notorious for suicidal people throwing themselves off the roof.  Martin is a disgraced television presenter, whose marriage and career are in tatters after he slept with a 15 year old girl; Maureen is a single mother with a severely disabled son, and looking after him has left her with no time for a life of her own; Jess has family problems, and has also just been dumped by her first boyfriend; and JJ’s band has broken up and his girlfriend has left him.  These four very different people have all decided to kill themselves, but when they all turn up at Toppers House at the same time, they decide to take the long way down (i.e., they walk down) instead. (No spoilers, don’t worry, this all happens in the first few pages.)  The book then focuses on the next few months in their lives, as they try and help each other – or cause problems for each other.

I have read and enjoyed Nick Hornby’s books before, and had been meaning to read this one for, literally, years.  It wasn’t what I expected – for some reason I cannot remember, I expected the whole book to take place in one night, on top of the building.   The book is narrated by each of the four characters in turn, so we see certain events from multiple points of view.  It’s a format that I usually like, and I think it worked well in one sense.  All of the characters were very different, so it seems logical to give them all their own distinct voice.  However, I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole.

I think the main issue I have is that it all seems too implausible.  The premise is certainly interesting, but certain events which followed just didn’t seem very likely at all, and so I was never really able to invest in the story.  Jess was such a dislikable character, that even though she really did have some major issues to deal with, I could not feel any empathy or sympathy for her whatsoever.  She was completely and utterly cruel for no other reason than for the sake of being cruel.  I don’t think it’s necessary to like every character, but surely they should make you feel something for them?!

On the plus side, it was an undemanding read, which sounds an odd thing to say about a book featuring four suicidal main characters, and there were some amusing moments.  I liked JJ, and I felt sorry for Maureen.

Overall though, I would say this is my least favourite book out of those I have read by Nick Hornby, and something of a mixed bag.  Not brilliant, not terrible, just….so-so.

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This four part mini-series, adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name, stars France McDormand (who also bought the rights to the novel, and was executive producer) as the titular character, and spans 25 years of Olive’s life in small town Maine.  It also stars Richard Jenkins as her husband Henry, John Gallagher Jr as her son Christopher, and a large cast of other supporting characters.

It’s not an easy watch, but my goodness, this series was so compelling that I could not bear to tear my eyes away and watched all four hour long episodes in one sitting.  Olive is not always a likeable character; in fact most of the time, she is downright rude, and often cruel to those around her, especially Henry.  Despite everything, her husband loves her dearly, and never stops trying to show his affection.  In contrast to his wife, Henry is kind, compassionate and good-hearted – as the town pharmacist, he is popular and well-loved in the community, although the same cannot be said of his wife.  Nonetheless, Olive is always, ALWAYS an interesting character.  She is capable of occasional kindness, but never of warmth, and she cites her family’s history of depression as one reason for this.

The whole cast, but particularly McDormand and Jenkins, were absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.  I really felt for poor Henry, who Olive spoke to so harshly, and also for her son Christopher, who as he grows up, finds his own way of dealing with the coldness of his mother.  Despite everything, I ended up feeling sorry for Olive, as she ends up alienating almost everyone (although she would have hated to be pitied).  The show featured other people who live in the same town as Olive, and how she and Henry interact with them – the storyline about a former student of hers named Kevin Coulson was particularly touching, and Cory Michael Smith put in a truly touching performance in the role.

This is not the show to watch if you are in need of cheering up, but if you like good drama, and outstanding acting, then please see this if you can.  It is one of the best mini series I have ever watched, and I will definitely return to it at a later date.

Year of release: 2014

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Producers: Frances McDormand, Jane Anderson, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Steve Shareshian, David Coatsworth

Writers: Elizabeth Strout, Jane Anderson

Main cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, John Gallagher Jr., Peter Mullan, Zoe Kazan, Cory Michael Smith

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The Artist was a triumph at the 2012 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars, including Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  It perhaps was not an obvious candidate for success, being a black and white silent movie.  Or maybe that was part of the charm….either way, it was a deserving winner, for showing that excellent films do not always require huge budgets – this was comparatively cheap to make, but provided top-notch entertainment!

The film starts in 1927, and Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a hugely popular silent movie star.  Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, a young starlet, just starting out in the movies, who meets Valentin and stars with him briefly in one film.  Two years later, and talking films are the new craze, while Valentin is seen as a has-been.  Meanwhile, Peppy is finding ever more success in the movie industry.  As Valentin falls on hard times, he grows depressed and bitter.  But there may be someone who can help him….

Sometimes when films are a novelty of sorts – which a black and white silent film certainly is these days – once the novelty has worn off, there is not much underneath.  I’m happy to say that I did not think this was the case whatsoever in this film.  Dujardin and Bejo both sparkle in their roles, and have great chemistry and charisma.  Peppy (by name and by nature) is adorable, but in the hands of a lesser actress, could easily have just been annoying.  Dujardin perfectly captures the fall from grace of George Valentin – adored and revered at first, but he soon becomes yesterday’s news, and he really struggles to cope.  And of course, his beloved and loyal dog Uggy, is just adorable!

I did find it quite a strange experience watching a film with no dialogue – it’s just not something that we are used to today, where often snappy and witty dialogue is required.  However, The Artist illustrates that you can tell a charming story without speaking – the expressions and movements of the actors, together with the sets, tell the story perfectly.

There are shades of Singin’ In The Rain in this film, dealing as it does with a similar theme – that of talking movies causing problems for silent actors.  In fact, in some scenes, Dujardin really does resemble Gene Kelly, and while I don’t know for sure, I am sure that some scenes were a direct nod to the Kelly classic.

Anyway, it’s the kind of film that I think needs to be seen to be appreciated.  I would certainly recommend it, and have no doubt that I will be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Producer: Antoine de Cazotte, Daniel Delume, Richard Middleton, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jeremy Burdek, Nadia Khamlichi, Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn, Jean Dujardin

Writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Main cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell

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William Heaney is a forger of antiquarian books – together with his friends Stinx and Jaz, he produces fake first edition novels by such authors as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, which he sells to greedy collectors.  He makes no money out of this scam, and gives all his proceeds to charity – namely GoPoint, a centre for the homeless run by his friend Antonia.

William is a man haunted by events in his past, for which he still feels guilty.  As a result, he refuses to allow himself to grow too close to people or to fall in love.  He can also see the demons that haunt people – not metaphorical demons such as drink or drugs, but actually living breathing demons.  Not everyone can see them, but William can – and he has a few of his own to deal with as well.

There are two timelines in this book – the story of what happened in William’s past to make him so closed off; and current events in his life – a growing friendship with a mysterious girl called Yasmin, which frightens him as much as it fascinates him; an encounter with a homeless ex-soldier; and his often troubled relationship with his ex-wife and their children.

I thought the book was a terrific read.  Although we learn right from the outset that William is a con-artist, it is hard not to feel something for his character – he seems to be a man searching for the way to right a wrong, and perhaps find a way out of his trapped existence.  He drinks far too much red wine and is probably bordering on alcoholism.  But he has a heart and feels compassion for others.

The story from William’s past was interesting (I’m not giving away any spoilers) and it was easy to see how such events could have a long lasting effect.  However, I preferred the narrative of the current day.

The characters were, in the main, well drawn especially William himself, his daughter Sarah, and Yasmin.  I was eager to find out if he would eventually find a way of conquering his demons, and had no idea how the story was going to end up.  Without giving anything away, I found the ending to be extremely satisfying with many of the threads throughout the book coming together.

The writing flowed very well and I found myself engrossed in the story.  I will certainly be looking out for more work by this author.  (It should be noted that William Heaney is a pseudonym for the author Graham Joyce.)  I’m uncertain as to exactly what genre I would put this book in – however, I would certainly recommend it as an absorbing read.

(Author’s website can be found here.  Author’s additional blog can be found here.)

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In 1964, 89 year old Winston Churchill wakes up to find a looming presence in his room.  It is the depression from which he has suffered throughout his life, which he famously called the “black dog.”  Across town, Esther Hammerhans opens her front door to find a huge black dog standing outside, wanting to rent her spare room.  The black dog introduces himself as Mr Chartwell, and later comes to be known as Black Pat.  Esther has no idea who or what he is, or why he has sought her out.  So will she find out before she falls under his diabolical spell?

This is such an unusual novel that I find it very difficult to review.  The premise sounds completely absurd – to make the black dog of depression into an actual black dog, who can talk and interact with those whose life he infiltrates – and does not sound as though it should work.  However, as a plot device it works incredibly well, showing how depression can creep up on someone insiduously, how it can affect all areas of life, and how it can be strangely attractive.

The narrative is in the third person, and takes place over a few days during which Churchill retires completely from politics.  The story switches from Churchill to Esther, who do not know each other, and are unaware that they have a mutual companion.  I thought the writing was terrific – descriptive, but without any unnecessary words, subtle, and at times very funny.  However, the humour had a distinct sting in the tail.

Esther is a beautifully drawn character, who was easy to believe in, and Churchill was also described brilliantly (as was his wife, Clementine), and facts from his real life were woven into the story.  Black Pat hovers over every scene ominously and is variously shown as tender, spiteful, witty, selfish, cynical and inviting.  But while he can sometimes be quite likeable (at least in the form which he takes in this story), the reader is never allowed to forget exactly who he is and what he represents.

I’m not sure that my review has done this book justice.  However, I will say that it was one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time, and despite the unusual premise, it worked on every level for me.  This is Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel – I certainly hope that she will write more!

(I would like to thank British Bookshops & Stationers for sending me a review copy of this book.  British Bookshop & Stationers’ website can be found here.)

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For my money, Richard Lewis is one of the funniest men on the planet.  The actor/comedian has had a successful career spanning three decades, and is loved by many.  However, some fifteen years ago, he nearly died after the alcoholism which he had been battling largely in private finally took it’s toll.

This is not a comedic book, nor is it intended to be (although certain parts are laugh out loud funny).  Instead, Lewis tells us of his life from a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family, to his descent into alcoholism, and finally his battle to overcome his addiction.  It is not a conventional autobiography, told chronologically; rather it is a collection of essays on all manner of subjects – the aforementioned family, alcoholism and recovery, and other subjects such as his idols, specific incidents in his career, and random musings, which all piece together to tell a very honest tale.

His honesty is what makes this book so readable – Lewis is, by his own admission, self-centred and narcissistic, but he also shows great compassion and understanding of what anybody battling an addiction is facing.  He is truthful in admitting that life still sucks sometimes even after one has got sober, and that overcoming his alcoholism wasn’t like a magic formula which instantly made life wonderful.  He has many neuroses and worries, which he discusses with frankness (I got the impression that writing this book was definitely a cathartic experience for him).  He doesn’t try to offer solutions for others with similar problems – he merely talks about what, finally, worked for him.

Definitely recommended – and not just to fans of Richard Lewis.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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