Updated on August 5, 2015
33. ‘A Subtle Thing’ by Alicia Hendley
As someone who has no experience at all of clinical depression, this book proved to be a remarkable insight into the life of a sufferer. This is an intricate psychological study, told from the point of view of Beth: a woman who experiences recurring bouts of depression throughout her life.
The prologue is moving in its description of the condition: the way in which it is always just under the surface, the ease with which she denies that it is coming back, the crushing hopelessness and emotional distance that characterise its worst days. I felt that the rest of the novel did not quite live up to the quality of this brutally frank opening description, in which I felt closer to the speaker than at any other time.
Beth reminisces a lot in this book, as she (through therapy and personal exploration) looks back on her life and analyses the roots of her depression, and how it affected her growing up. She never knew her biological father, but had a stable male figure in Jacob, her stepfather. When his marriage to her mother fell apart and he left, however, she felt rejected and stepfather number two (Peter) turned out to be a total arsehole, who did all he could to make her life worse. Her relationships with men are, unsurprisingly, troubled given this unstable early foundation. Her on-off lover throughout the book is Patrick, who sticks with her for many years and several bouts of depression, despite her sometimes horrible treatment of him.
There is, of course, the fundamental difficulty here for a reader who has no personal experience of depression. Sometimes I found myself getting annoyed with Beth, wondering why she said the things she did and pushed away the people who were trying to help her. When she comes to the realisation that she has always thought of herself as a victim, and has used this persona to deny ever having caused damage herself, I thought at last! I was surprised that it had taken her so long to realise that she has been a bitch too. Of course, she was ill and to a certain extent couldn’t do anything about it, but I still felt quite alienated by some of her behaviour.
Two little things that irritated me: on several occasions she referred to sleeping babies as ‘boneless’. No, they were limp, but they still had bones. Also it’s ‘crumpled’ pieces of paper, not ‘crumbled’.
I would recommend this book if you want a clear and detailed insider’s view of depression, highlighted by occasionally brilliant turns of phrase. I loved it when she described looking into other people’s eyes, to check that she was still there. I would be interested to know how this book is received by somebody who has – or knows somebody who has – suffered from depression.
“You’re walking through your days with parts falling off behind you and no one notices the leper among them.”
I can thank LibraryThing for this book – I entered the Reviewers’ Promotion and was lucky enough to get a copy of this to read on my Kindle!
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?