Deborah Orr 

Rachel Joyce and Michael Richmond – two great new writers I urge you to read

Deborah Orr: These two first novels about depression are very different, but oddly complementary, and provide a rich education in our human emotional battleground
  
  

I read a couple of first novels this week, both dealing with depression. They could not have been more different. Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry tells of a retired man in a marriage that has drifted deep into the doldrums. He decides, entirely capriciously, to walk across England and visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. He believes it will keep her alive. Really, the walk gives purpose to his own life and, more significantly, frees him to examine things about it that he was afraid to accept. It's a wonderful book. Michael Richmond's novel is called Sisyphusa, and was written as a response to the author's sudden and total collapse into clinical depression when he was a happy and engaged 21-year-old student. It has little of the beauty and craft of Joyce's book. Instead, it has a raw and naked authenticity, even as it describes a clearly allegorical world. In Sisyphusa, drugged inmates have to submit to all sorts of humiliations in order to be deemed able to pass in the outer world, as Normals, and freed. The odd thing about these books is that they work so strangely well as companion volumes, the one offering both counterpoint and validation of the other. Both should be read for pleasure. Both provide a rich education in the emotional battleground that we call the human condition.