GP Book Group: The Other Side of You

Author: Sally Vickers Fourth Estate £7.99. ISBN- 13 978-0-00-716544-5

Dr David McBride is a psychiatrist with inner demons. Growing up with the uncertainty that, during his childhood, he may have been responsible for his brother’s death, he is drawn to the management of parasuicidal patients as his life’s vocation.

It is in this context that he meets Elizabeth Cruickshank, after her failed suicide bid, and as their professional relationship develops McBride discovers that his patient’s personal circumstances have a remarkable resonance with his own. The catalyst to this revelation are the works of the 16th-century artist Caravaggio, and in particular his painting ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ which provides the denouement for the story.

Vickers draws masterfully on her former experience as a psychoanalyst, intertwining this knowledge with her understanding of baroque art and her appreciation of Italy and its culture.

Although the tale is slow to develop, it gathers pace towards the end as we learn more about the angst of the reticent patient and the insecurities of her professional therapist.

Deeper analysis of the characterisation may lead the reader to believe that what we are witnessing is a ‘de Clerambault’s syndrome’ in reverse in which it is the therapist who develops a delusional dependency on the patient. The plot centres on the redefining of professional boundaries. It is McBride’s vulnerability and need to feel needed that allows him to let his patient fill the emotional gap left by his dead sibling. Thankfully this results in a healing resolution for both main characters who have been engaged in a naive folie a deux.

The author writes with remarkable depth and perception on the vagaries of human nature, and the plot runs much deeper than a biography of a suicidal patient and her doctor.

By harnessing the power of art, Vickers allows her protagonist to redefine his own personal and professional boundaries.

I found this tale absorbing rather than enjoyable. It requires dogged concentration. For the reader who has the stamina, and the patience, to inwardly digest this tale, it allows us as doctors to reconsider our own human fallibilities. 

Dr Fiona Gilroy is a GP in Wiltshire 

What GP readers thought about The Other Side of You:

Pam Rawlings, a GP in Sheffield: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed this. The characters were credible and attractively ‘damaged’. It reminded me of my days as a medical student sitting in on psychiatry ward round discussions.

A book of hope and acceptance and intellectually satisfying too. I will definitely search out for more books by Salley Vickers.’ 

Richard Bull is a GP in Derbyshire, adds: ‘An interesting book, all the more so as it is written in the first person as a male psychiatrist. I found it slightly hollow in places, however, without the ring of authenticity, and somewhat predictable.

Although worth a read, it left me mostly unmoved, apart from an eagerness to explore the art.’ 

Dr Sharon Gracey, a GP in Belfast, comments: ‘The psychiatrist’s personal difficulties seem to have given him a greater insight into the human psyche and an ability to get to the heart of what is troubling people — he appears to gain much satisfaction by being able to help people.

His character is well written and very believable, although seemed more female than male — I had to keep reminding myself that he was not a woman. David’s wife Olivia is selfish and self-centred and while a less well-developed character, was again very believable — we all probably know someone quite similar to her.

There is good use of art and excellent descriptions of the work of Caravaggio, as well as lovely descriptions of Rome and Milan. The book did not end as I would have liked, but it was probably more realistic than the ending I had envisaged.

Overall a good and thought-provoking holiday read. 

Have your say

The next novel we will be reviewing in GP Book Group is The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld (Headline Review £7.99 ISBN 978-0-7553-3142-0

An inventive thriller inspired by Sigmund Freud’s one and only visit to America, in 1909. On the morning after Freud arrives in New York, a stunning debutante is found bound and strangled. The following night another beautiful heiress is discovered, viciously wounded and unable to speak or to recall her ordeal. Freud is enlisted to help recover her memory to piece together the killer’s identity.

  • We have five copies to give away. For your chance to be sent a copy, email your postal address GPbookgroup@haymarket.com, with the book title in the subject panel.
  • If you have read the book, please email your comments, however brief, for inclusion in GP Bookgroup to GPbookgroup@haymarket.com
  • Comments on next month’s book: The Girls, by Lori Lansens, are due next week. Please contribute your comments, however brief, to the bookgroup. Email GPbookgroup@haymarket.com with the book title as the subject

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