Andrew Solomon’s ‘The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression’: A Nice Invigorating Book Review
The figures, nationally and worldwide, for rates of depression are startling whenever the latest magazine or newspaper article on the subject throws them around. That’s the case even if you’ve never suffered from the condition: if it has affected you or your loved ones personally, then the figures can be even more sobering.
If you’re a sufferer, then you have probably tried or are trying medication, talking cures, maybe complementary treatments, nutrition, yoga, spiritual healing, you name it, someone somewhere will be giving it a go! When you’re in a bad way it only makes sense to try every damn thing available to alleviate your condition. Would it avail many sufferers to read up more on their condition, its manifestations, possible treatments and likely prognoses? Perhaps, perhaps not: it seems unlikely it could do any harm. And certainly this, a personal account of depression combined with a scholarly study, is a beautifully written and absorbing book.
By his own account, Solomon was a quiet and reserved child, somewhat prone perhaps to some proto-version of depression even then. But the actual adult onset of the illness in the book is startling, and worrisome, in its suddenness and violence. His recovery is painful and gradual, including relapses. It gives him a curiosity and appetite to discover more about the consequences, variants and treatments of mental illness: and as a result we have ‘The Noonday Demon’.
My favourite part of the book is the real life case histories in which we get little vignettes of people’s own subjective experiences of their mental troubles. Hopefully not in a schadenfreude or touristy way, but in a way that just makes me kind of put things into some kind of perspective, and gives an awareness that these experiences are part of the normal – though not necessarily less pathological for that – range of human feeling. Many accounts are most depressing because of the clearness that many of the individuals featured are gifted, potentially able and productive people, prevented from reaching their goals and potentialities simply due to a biochemical accident.
Less fascinating, although certainly an important and valid part of the book, are the more statistical and factual aspects, e.g. geographical and historical comparisons of incidence and experience of depression. Valid, but not riveting! I did however find the comparison of current allopathic and complementary treatments compelling, although I did not find myself always in agreement with Solomon’s viewpoints.
Is this book useful to you? Depending on your personal experiences or brush with mental infirmity, that’s debatable. Is it enlightening, sometimes beautiful, sometimes sad, a stimulating read? Yes, it is. Maybe for you: maybe for someone you love, it’s worth reading.