Veronika, a young girl who seemingly has everything in life, takes an overdose but wakes to find herself in a psychiatric hospital where she is told that the overdose has damaged her heart and she has only days to live. There she meets other inpatients, each searching for their place in the world. The scene is set for an exploration of the boundaries between madness and sanity, definitions of normality and the purpose of existence.
While I didn't find Veronika a particularly likeable character, many readers will relate to her reasons for suicide: 'Everything in her life was the same and, once her youth was gone, it would be downhill all the way,' and 'Veronika read the newspapers, watched TV, she was aware of what was going on in the world. Everything was wrong, and she had no way of putting things right'.
Coelho communicates complex concepts in a down-to-earth, accessible, humorous and uplifting manner. This book made me consider the way madness has been perceived and defined by society through the ages, from a sin to a disease. The pharmaceutical industry, through its relationship with the psychiatric profession, politicians and the media, also influences our view on definition, diagnosis and treatment.
Here is a refreshing perspective, not often heard, from an author who has himself in his youth spent time as an inpatient in psychiatric institutions in Brazil. The concepts are thought-provoking and relevant to mental health issues in the NHS today.
Author: Paulo Coelho
HarperCollins £7.99 ISBN: 0722540442
- Dr Arti Maini is a GP in Middlesex
WHAT GP READERS THOUGHT ABOUT VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE:
DR MADELINE EVANS, a GP in Pembrokeshire writes: 'Coelho writes with great empathy. The book should be recommended reading for medical students doing their psychiatric stint - his description of a panic attack would grace any undergraduate textbook.
Simply written, very descriptive without being flowery.'
DR LILI JONES, from Telford, says: 'Veronika realises that her personality consists of a variety of Veronikas, some of whom she was too scared to explore or had suppressed in order to conform. She allows emotions to arise, and finds herself involved in an escape plan. A thoughtful and provocative book.' Dr Emma Spencer, a GP in Huddersfield, says: 'Intelligently constructed, and cleverly entwined to produce an unexpected ending.'
DR RICHARD BULL, a GP in Sheffield, comments: 'This book attempts to seduce one to the notion that freedom, and thus fulfilment in life, lies in abandoning all prohibition, taboos, social conditioning and moral restraint; that "madness" is arbitrarily defined by the majority; and that bitterness (vitriol) is cured by a hunger for life. It is a fascinating yet simple story, but for me never manages to convince.'
HAVE YOUR SAY
The next book we will be reviewing in GP Book Group is Human Traces, by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, ISBN: 0099458268)
As young boys, both Jacques Rebiere and Thomas Midwinter become fascinated with the human mind. As psychiatrists, their quest takes them from the Victorian lunatic asylum to the lecture halls of Professor Charcot in Paris. Against the backdrop of First World War, the two men's volatile relationship develops and changes, always tempered by an exceptional woman: Thomas's sister Sonia.
- We have five copies to give away. For your chance to be sent a copy, email your postal address to GPbookgroup@haynet.com, writing 'Human Traces' in the subject panel.
- If you have read the book, please send your comments,however brief, for inclusion in the review, to GPbookgroup@haynet.com.