Trauma, By Patrick McGrath

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The Independent Culture

"My mother's first depressive illness occurred when I was seven years old, and I felt that it was my fault." This is the first sentence of Patrick McGrath's psychological thriller, and it sets the tone for what follows: guilt, mental illness and the tensions within families are themes which run throughout the novel.

Dr Charlie Weir is a New York psychiatrist specialising in trauma. The story shifts easily in time, moving between the 1980s, when Charlie is divorced and in a new relationship with a psychologically damaged beauty while still having an affair with his first wife; the 1970s, and Charlie's treatment of his wife's brother, a Vietnam war veteran; and Charlie's own childhood. Charlie's sharp eye for others' behaviour and what it means is always fascinating; but his eye isn't so sharp when turned upon himself, and his own buried trauma is the last thing we discover.

The writing is vivid and insistent and you won't find it hard to finish once you've started, but the ending, I'm afraid, felt like an anticlimax to me.

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