With the vogue for confessional writing apparently on the wane, it is intriguing that the subject of Clare Boylan's latest novel, the degeneration of an elderly father into manic depression, is said to have been inspired by a real-life family incident. A year or so ago, much would have been made of the effect of this on other family members, perhaps along the lines of Linda Grant's Remind Me Who I Am, Again or Blake Morrison's And When Did You Last See Your Father? But Boylan's fictionalising of an often frightening illness has gone beyond the trauma of its effects to wider themes: the demands and rewards of marriage, love and loss, female autonomy.
Dick and Lily Butler are a long-married couple in their 70s when Dick's extraordinarily rapid slide into manic depression begins. From signing cheques for thousands of pounds to complete strangers he meets in the street, to imagined persecution from all quarters, he finally and dramatically turns on his beloved wife one night with a shotgun. Lily's resistance to having him committed is coupled with a fear of independence after years of compromise and cohabitation, but urged on by her daughter Ruth and psychiatrist Tim Walcott, she is forced to yield and in one particularly painful scene watches as the police remove her husband from the family home.
Boylan is excellent on a number of aspects here. She combines with perfect balance not only the terror of a mind descending into madness, but the darkly comic behaviour of a man who is utterly convinced that his 76-year- old wife is having a rampant affair with the young, homosexual psychiatrist ("It is not fair for a man to have to face another man when he is ill and in his pyjamas"). …