Friday, January 26, 2007

Review: A Special Relationship

Call it prejudice, but I question a male author's ability to write convincingly about postnatal depression. My being able to buy a hardback copy on Amazon marketplace for 99p didn't bode well either for the quality of the novel. However, having escaped dreaded PND myself, I feel unqualified to judge the adequacy of descriptive detail of the illness and I'll trust the author to have done his homework.

What Douglas Kennedy has attempted in this novel is to show the devastating consequences of serious illness on a impulsive marriage. Sally (American) meets Tony (Brit) in the line of duty, which for both of them means as foreign correspondents on newspapers. When Sally becomes pregnant, they marry and move to London. Our city does not come off well in this account, it's portrayed as grimy, gloomy and socially constipated. The middle part of the book details Sally's PND. She's admitted to a psych ward and threatened with ECT (do they really do that to depressed women?). While Sally is recovering, Tony is plotting... Will Sally ever recover her son, or her sanity? And how many lawyers will it take to screw her husband over?

It sounds a depressing tale from the plot synopsis, but the writing style is wry and laconic: sort of desperation-lite. It's told in the first person from Sally's point of view. The fluency and jauntiness of the narrative detracts from the credibility of the depression scenario. There are no memory blanks, few moments of real self doubt, and once Sally feels herself 'recovered' there are no real setbacks in relation to her illness. When Sally finds herself without a single friend after 6 months in London, I was inwardly shouting 'Surely someone told you about the National Childbirth Trust!'

Medical professionals get a mixed press in the story. The male consultant, of course, is an arrogant twat. The women are treated more sympathetically with a health visitor breaking off her Canadian holiday to send a witness statement.

Amazon reviewers are divided on their attitudes to the novel, and I found myself mirroring their ambiguity. The book is a page-turner - I did find myself drawn in to the plot in spite of being a cynical about the detail. I think it shows a very extreme version of reactions to PND. Sufferers may feel this helps boost awareness of a serious illness that is often played down. On the other hand, Sally's treatment at the hands of the medical profession and her husband might make women wary of admitting to the symptoms of PND.

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