Synopsis Taken From The Paperback Edition
‘One day, a failed suicide, Elizabeth Cruikshank, is admitted to the care of psychiatrist Dr David McBride.
She is mysteriously reticent and it is not until he recalls a painting by Caravaggio that she is moved to recount her story.
As her account unfolds, David finds himself unusually touched by his patient’s story of her tragic dereliction of love and trust, and by a haunting sense that his elusive patient’s life has a special resonance for the hidden ‘other side’ of his own.’
About The Author
Salley Vickers was born in Liverpool, raised in Stoke-on-Trent and London, and read English at Newnham College, Cambridge, despite her father’s strong reservations, as this went very much against the staunchly Communist environment she had been brought up in.
Despite having held many and varied jobs, it may have been her social worker mothers influence, that led her to later pursue careers as a teacher of children with special needs, then eventually a psychoanalyst.
Following the unprecedented success of her books, Salley now chooses to write full time, suplementing this with her return to an earlier career as a lecturer, this time in a wide variety of subjects which encompass her love of art, religion, literature and psychology.
Her love of the arts is also reflected in the private time she indulges in opera, dancing and poetry – together with her other passion, bird-watching
My Thoughts About The Book
Without giving away too many spoilers, as this book has quite a narrow narrative and storyline, so it would be easy to do so, I would just say that if you like a book where the characters truly engage with one another, then this is a must read for you.
The patient and her psychologist, through their sharing of experiences, create a powerful and frighteningly honest reality about life, that left me questioning my own thoughts and actions. Much as it did David McBride, the pschologist in question, who is left to re-evaluate both his personal and professional life, and his ability to make an honest and meaningful difference to the lives of those around him.
The characters are complex, formed with great tenderness and respect, and given a life that is both moving and powerful. The storyline of the psychiatrist trying to help his suicidal patient shifts, page by page, into a shared pain, as their stories unfold together, with each trying to reach some kind of self-understanding, as they confront their failures and regrets with an honesty that can be both moving and painful.
Sometimes I just wanted to shake the pair of them, at other times I wanted to cry for them, or with them, I’m not sure which. The debate about the nature of relationships; love and pain; life and death; self knowledge and lack of self worth, are all skilfully woven into the story, yet presented so directly as to be almost too intimate and too close to home, all making for a totally compelling journey.
It was almost a relief when the couple are finally all talked out and have each, in their own way, come to an understanding and acceptance of their individual circumstances and both make the conscious decision to make the most of every opportunity and move on with their lives, each in a totally new direction.
The story didn’t quite end as I had expected however, although it was quite haunting and beautiful, given the ties throughout the story to the art of Caravaggio, particularly his work titled ‘Supper At Emmaus’, which both inspired them to open up to each other, yet eventually appeared destined to keep them apart.
Not being an art crtitic, I nevertheless spent some considerable time in researching the art and life of Caravaggio and confess to becoming mesmerised by many of his religious paintings, although the man himself appeared to be quite a troubled and not particularly likeable character. To my untrained eye, his paintings seem passionate, yet almost cruel, but with an expressive beauty that captured my imagination.
This book was an impulse buy from a charity shop and has been languishing in my ‘To Be Read’ pile for some considerable time. I wasn’t even sure whether to bother reading it or not, having heard mixed reviews and thoughts about it, but being the kind of person that just can’t part with a book until I have read it, just in case I miss something fantastic, I decided to give it a try.
I am certainly glad that I did save this one from being left unread any longer …
A definite 4 out of 5