Campbell has a talent for imagining lost souls, but he needs a story worthy of them.



A psychiatrist wrestles with his clients’ demons—and his own—in the first novel from Tony Blair’s former spokesperson.

Campbell (The Blair Years, 2007, etc.) set the bar high for his fiction debut, attempting to get inside the heads of numerous patients served by Martin Sturrock, one of London’s premier shrinks. And he often pulls it off; the book contains many virtuoso passages that reflect a rich understanding of depression and its victims. Martin’s clients include Ralph, whose alcoholism is derailing his career as a senior health minister; Emily, a former teacher living in seclusion since a fire disfigured her face; Arta, a refugee from Kosovo who was raped after moving to England; David, a young working-class man wracked by anxiety; and Matthew, whose affairs have prompted his wife to label him a sex addict. Experienced and middle-aged, Martin can almost treat them on autopilot; he assigns homework reading, suggests that they keep dream diaries, asks the proper questions. But after he tells Arta she must forgive the men who raped her, she flees, sparking a weekend’s worth of self-flagellation over his own shortcomings, not least his patronage of prostitutes. Ultimately, Campbell fails to construct a tenable plot from all this. Numerous threads connect all too neatly at the novel’s tragic climax, and the final pages shift into easy melodrama. Before that, though, he crafts some top-notch characterizations. A patient walk-through of Ralph’s day, drink by drink, exposes the emotional and physical devastation he’s sown in himself, and Arta’s post-rape fear of human interaction is handled with a smart mix of empathy and cold realism. These achievements make the clumsy closing chapters all the more frustrating. The author clearly wants to make a case for the complexity and value of psychiatry, but late-stage mawkishness strips the book of its power.

Campbell has a talent for imagining lost souls, but he needs a story worthy of them.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59020-224-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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