Really enjoyed this book! Good review by John Boyne here & below:
There’s a moment in Woody Allen’s film Hannah and Her Sisterswhen Allen’s character, Mickey, feeling in need of spiritual nourishment, approaches a group of Hare Krishnas in Central Park. “I was born Jewish,” he tells them, “but last winter I tried to become a Catholic and it didn’t work for me.”
I was reminded of this scene early in Michael Harding’s wonderful second memoir when the former priest talks to a psychotherapist about needing meaning in his life. “I’ve tried Christianity,” he tells her. “And I’ve tried Buddhism. Neither of them seems to work for me.” But the truth is, it’s not religion he craves; it’s companionship.
Two years ago, when Harding (whose column appears in The Irish Times each Tuesday) published Staring at Lakes, an account of his struggle with depression, it’s unlikely he expected it to turn into an award-winning bestseller. Hanging With the Elephant is a worthy successor, a memoir set over a six-week period when Harding’s wife, an artist in her own right, takes a trip to Poland. From the start he is faced with a conundrum: as much as he values the idea of extended solitude, he worries that, left alone, he might struggle to cope.
Anyone familiar with depression will recognise the mood swings and erratic behaviour that characterise the illness. Low moments are countered by interludes of ebullient happiness, and at all times one is conscious of the famous “black dog” – or, in Harding’s case, his Dracula – lurking at the gate, fangs exposed, waiting to pounce. He explains the condition in a powerful image: “It’s a merciless solitude, like a glass wall surrounding the victim, leaving them alone, even in a noisy street, drenched with their own delusions and tormented by their own personal demons.” So anxious is he about feeling isolated that, the moment “the beloved” has boarded her flight, he decides to enjoy the camaraderie of city life for a couple of days.