Book Review: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam

The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adam - Header

I read Graham Greene’s The Power & The Glory because Matt Haig told me to. Well, he made such mention of it in his book Reasons To Stay Alive, discussions on how it was a constant source of enjoyment and almost help in his life, that I felt impelled to read it. I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s imagery is still clear in my head whenever I think about it. So it must have made some impact I suppose.

Haig also referenced The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by Dr David Adam. Describing it as “a brilliant and at times highly personal study of OCD, full of insights into the mind.” And with my love, passion and own personal connection to the mind and it’s faltering workings I made a note of the book, determined whether or not Haig had steered me wisely with Greene, that I would read it as well.

Science Text Books

Read it I have and sadly, once again I don’t think I have quite gained as much from it as Haig. For me, the book while thorough and insightful is also mixed and broken. The tone is wrong. The narrative viewpoint too muddled and shifting. There are large, long passages of the book where it honestly felt like I was being treated to a scientific text book. It is almost academic in style and presentation. Facts before fiction. Yet without warning it would swing to look directly onto Adam and his own personal experiences of OCD and suddenly the book would go unnervingly from a very cold and formal presentation to a more relaxed, informal and humane dialogue. It meant I never felt comfortable with the book because I was never sure what it was meant to be. A definition of a clinical disease or one man’s opinions and insight into it.

This sense of an almost split personality is made more annoying by the fact that Adam, his story and his conclusions are actually interesting. You can feel his personality, his struggles and his inner strength coming through in his writing, but too often just as you are starting to befriend him he would wander off into science and spend far too long attempting almost to justify his experiences with the clinical symptoms that define them.

Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces

The book losing its charm and warmth and personal touch by simply going too “lab coat” became sterile and worse, it became long winded. He’d spend so long explaining, exampling and expanding the diagnosis, to make sure you saw clearly how each part of the puzzle could be formed into it’s various mental ailments that it became hard to keep track of them all. So many presented that when he would later reference them by name only I struggled to rebuild the jigsaw he’d previously jumbled up. “A” no longer linking to “B” because it shared character traits with “C”.

Honestly, it almost felt like a book you needed to be making notes on as you read.

My other issue is that it seemed to present the idea that the clinical world is black and white. That there are no shades in between. If you suffer with “X” you WILL have the symptoms “Y and Z”. And the tone in which this is stated is such that I kept feeling like to even attempt to argue, disagree or know that this binary approach is wrong is to instantly put you at odds with the book and it’s author and make you feel foolish for evening contemplating another side to the argument.

The Oracle - The Matrix

There is so much I dislike about the book because I really don’t understand what it is trying to achieve, but I will admit that there passages that fascinate me. Passages relating to how the mind potentially works, how attempting to suppress a thought or emotion will simply lead to it gaining strength and traction in your mind. As an example, the dialogue that has the greatest impact in the film The Matrix is not some big patriarchal speech by Morphius, or declaration of independence by Neo, but rather, the Oracle asking the pondering question of whether Neo would have broken the vase if she hadn’t told him not to worry about breaking it? The idea that a thought once planted grows the more we fiddle with it.

If you want to know more about what OCD really is, what is means by definition and how it is more than just a stereotypical desire to wash your hands then I think you may find sustenance buried under a lot of padding, but if you’re looking for specific answers, or even for specific help, then I’m not sure this book will solve that problem. I just feel like it’s trying to be all things to all men and failing to achieve anything as a result.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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