Adult Fiction Mental Health Novel “In Two Minds”…and I am.


in two minds

I couldn’t resist the lure of a new novel featuring mental illness and its effects, from one of Australia’s leading psychiatrists, no less, and so here we are today with In Two Minds by Gordon Parker, founder of the Black Dog Institute.  We received our copy from Ventura Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dr Martin Homer is a GP with a naturally sunny disposition. Honourable, attentive and trusted by all of his patients, Martin has only ever loved one woman – his wife, Sarah.

When his mother dies suddenly, Martin’s comfortable life is thrown into complete disarray. After sinking into the black dog of grief and depression, he ascends to new heights in a frenzied, manic high. Now, he’s never felt better!

In between riding his new skateboard around the streets at night and self-medicating from his stash at work, the artificially elated and self-entitled Martin crosses paths with Bella, a beautiful and sexual young woman profoundly damaged by trauma of her own.

In Two Minds takes you on a quirky, rollicking journey that unveils the complexities of mental illness with wit and warmth. Gordon Parker’s impressive career in psychiatry reveals itself through extremely rich descriptions of depression, bipolar and borderline personality characteristics.

It must be said that when you’ve read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, featuring mental illness of one form or another, things do tend to get a bit samey.  This is one of the reasons I am in two minds about In Two Minds – if this had been the first novel I had read in which the protagonist has a breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric unit, I may have been more interested in the outcome.  Indeed, if I had not had the pleasure of spending some time in a psychiatric hospital myself, I may have been more entranced by the ins and outs of what happens when you are deemed no longer able to manage your own affairs without cocking things up in spectacular fashion.  If you have not had such an experience yourself, and you aren’t elbow deep in the back catalogue of “books about people losing their marbles in various painful and unexpected ways” then you should find In Two Minds to be compelling reading.

Martin Homer is an all-around good bloke.  He loves his wife, is wholeheartedly devoted to his work as a GP and generally sets the standard for good behaviour and personal growth everywhere he goes.  Bella is a woman with a past and a borderline personality disorder (**I’ve always wondered why the “borderline” part is added to the “personality disorder” part of that description, because there ain’t nothin’ “borderline” about Bella’s crazy, vitriolic antics**).  When Martin’s self-medicating after the death of his mother leads to a manic episode, the trajectories of Bella and Martin cross and Martin’s prior grip on his identity, his marriage and his work is shattered.

The story is told in alternating sections between Martin and Bella, with Martin’s story taking the primary position.  Really, this is a story about Martin and Bella is a bit player, albeit one whose back story is essential to the plot for her actions toward Martin to be in any way believable.  The author mentions the Madonna-whore complex early on in the story and all of the women presented here in any detail are indeed Madonnas (Edina, Martin’s mother, and Sarah, Martin’s wife) or whores (Bella, the Trophettes).  Bella’s early history, which the reader discovers at the end of the book, even indicates that she was a literal whore, working as a prostitute.  There was something unsettling about this for me, and I would have liked to have seen a few chapters written from Sarah’s point of view.  It seemed a little unfair to have such a focus on the man-slaying Bella and the existential crisis of Martin (post-mania) and so little focus on the woman who chooses to “stand by her man” as it were, despite the fact that he’s just undergone a major change in personality and behaviour.  In fact, had there been more of a focus on Sarah, this would have been a point that set this novel apart from the multitude that have gone before it; as important as the perspective of the sufferer of mental illness undeniably is, it would be instructive to read something from the point of view of the supporter – the spouse, significant other, family member – of the sufferer.

One thing that really does set this book apart is that it isn’t focused on talking therapy in any way.  Much is made in the early chapters of Martin’s past and the various tragedies and triumphs that shaped who he is.  I was expecting that this information would be somehow revisited later in the book as part of Martin’s recovery, but this wasn’t the case.  Instead, the section of the book dealing with Martin’s recovery is focused almost entirely on the various medications he is treated with, their side effects and the way they interact.  This may explain the slight disconnect I felt between the early parts of the story, in which Martin’s family and Sarah play such a strong role, and the latter parts, in which all of the key stressors and factors that almost certainly factored into Martin’s illness are glossed over in favour of his response to medication.  Even though it wasn’t what I was expecting, this certainly was a point of difference that makes this book stand apart from others on a similar topic.

The author may have even not-so-subtly inserted himself into the story by means of Saxon Marshall, Martin’s treating psychiatrist.  The name of this character struck me as interesting, and this may just be me receiving coded messages through the TV and novels here, but Saxon is the surname of the Master as played by John Simm in David Tennant’s run of Doctor Who, while Marshal is the given name of one of a psychiatrist character in Irvin Yalom’s Lying on the Couch (see below).  I can’t help but wonder if this was a conscious choice of character moniker and if so, what does it say about ol’ Gordon Parker, eh?  (**Probably not much because it’s probably not a conscious naming device, and just me projecting.  It should have been though – mashing the two characters together is quite evocative, imo**).

I was a little confused at the ending of the book.  There is an ambiguous ending for Martin, which I think worked well given we, as readers, leave him so soon after his diagnosis and early recovery.  It was a clever move to end his story at this point and leave us wondering what became of him.  More curious however was the ending of Bella’s narrative trajectory.  Toward the very end of the book, we are privy to even more of Bella’s backstory and the introduction of a new key character in Bella’s life.  I couldn’t get a grasp on why this was included, unless it was only to set up Martin’s ambiguous departure, because it certainly didn’t heighten my empathy for Bella in any way and felt like too much of an information dump after the climax of the story.

Having finished up the book, I had a quick flick through some similar books of my acquaintance and, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review, books featuring mental illness of one kind or another do tend to blend together after a while.  I definitely experienced shades of The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence (female protagonist with bipolar disorder), Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy (professional male protagonist coming to terms with a change of identity concept and mental trauma), and most obviously, Irvin Yalom’s, Lying on the Couch (multiple psychiatrists go through various psychiatrist-y problems and as in all of Yalom’s work, boobs are mentioned a lot).

If you are looking for a truly original story about the whirlwind of depression, mania and psychosis, then I would suggest trying Kathleen Founds’ brilliant When Mystical Creatures Attack!  If you are an entry level journeyperson regarding novels about mental health or you have an interest in bipolar disorder, depression and mania generally, definitely give In Two Minds a go.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2017 in category #51: a book about a difficult topic.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,






Useful: An Adult Fiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…


imageWelcome to another, fairly self-explanatory “Five Things I’ve Learned” review.  Today I have a humorous, Australian adult contemporary novel for you that deals with the pressing question that most people never ask: How can I use my spare kidney to make the world a better place?  The book is Useful, a debut in adult fiction for Debra Oswald who is a published playwright and children’s novelist.  Let’s crack on, shall we?

It would be somewhat remiss to describe Sullivan Moss as a successful specimen of manhood.  Having dented and destroyed multiple friendships and at least one marriage through a combination of alcohol, infidelity and general poor behaviour, Sully wakes up in hospital to discover that even his attempt at suicide has been unsuccessful.  After taking the briefest of moments to reassess this unexpected new lease on life, Sully decides that he will become “useful” – by donating one of his kidneys to a complete stranger. 

While jumping through hoops to meet the criteria for a living donor, Sully begins to pull his life together and become a more productive member of society, making new friendships, holding down a job and making amends for past sins.  Just as it seems Sully has hit his stride in this new way of living, things go kidney-shaped when an old acquaintance returns to stir the pot. 

Sully thought he’d turned the corner, but unless he can maintain the strength of his convictions, he’s in danger of making a complete U-turn.


Here are…

Five Things I’ve Learned From…


1. It is actually possible to randomly decide to donate a spare body part to someone in need (at least in this country)

2.  When sneaking into a friend’s wake after skipping the funeral, it is best to do so alone. Or at least not in the company of a relative stranger who proceeds to nick all your dead friend’s partner’s gear.

3. Dogs are the glue that hold many awkward social couplings together.

4.  Infidelity is the glue that holds many rubbish relationships together.

5. Giving someone a second (and third, fourth, fifth or twentieth) chance can sometimes bear fruit.  *Fruit-bearing not guaranteed*

Apart from a definite sag in the middle, I quite enjoyed Useful.  It’s a fun and unusual premise, that of random living organ donation, and one that certainly should act as a conversation starter in a country such as ours in which rates of posthumous organ donation are so low and the need for said organs so high.  In fact, Oswald manages to touch on a number of rather serious issues in a jocular fashion in this tome.  There’s Sully’s obvious mental health problems, with depression, suicide attempts and alcoholism.  There’s relationship break-up and its effects on children.  And then of course, there’s the issue of re-homing pets whose owners have died.

Useful has an undeniably Australian feel to the humour and events in the story, which was something I welcomed.  There’s a sense of laid-backed-ness that you get with many Australian novels that I really delight in.  It makes book reading a bit like listening in to the gossipy talk at a backyard barbeque, and the male main character in this one also gives the humour a blokey feel, which I found quite refreshing.

Sully is (by design) an impossibly likeable but flawed character.  He is undeniably charming (in a genuine, self-deprecating way) and it is this trait that has caused most of the drama in his life to date.  I can’t really resist a tale of redemption told with humour and authenticity with a bit of quirk on the side, and Useful delivers on each of these elements.  Unfortunately, the plot does slow down in the middle, round about the time Sully’s ex-acquaintance from Hollywood arrives on the scene, and this slowing did effect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Sagging aside though, this should appeal if you’re looking for some contemporary fiction with a bit of a medical twist and one very darling dog.

Until next time,