April 18, 2014 6:29 pm

‘Packing Up’, by Brigid Keenan; ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop’, by David Adam

Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse, by Brigid Keenan, Bloomsbury, RRP£16.99, 320 pages

 

Brigid Keenan’s previous book, Diplomatic Baggage, gave an irreverent account of her decision to trade a high-flying career in fashion journalism for the life of a “trailing spouse”, travelling with her diplomat husband on his far-flung (though not always glamorous) postings. Heavy on the comedy of displacement, Packing Up continues in a similar vein – though with “AW” nearing retirement, we now find Keenan facing the prospect of a more rooted existence.

There’s still a dizzying amount of to-ing and fro-ing – between Brussels and Kazakhstan, London and Brussels, Azerbaijan and London. Keenan has an eye for farce, documenting missed flights, lost luggage and misunderstandings, though her sense of proportion occasionally falters (she complains of a domestic cook who puts “ground pepper in the pepper grinder”).

Yet, when faced with big challenges – including a cancer diagnosis – she is refreshingly candid. Wherever in the world she is writing from, her warmth and her sharp observations won’t fail to delight.

. . .

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, by David Adam, Picador, RRP£16.99, 336 pages

 

Although recognised for centuries, with likely sufferers including Dr Johnson and Hans Christian Andersen, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) remains poorly understood, widely regarded as little more than a penchant for tidy desks. David Adam’s study of the condition he has wrestled with for more than 20 years should help to change that.

For him, OCD takes the form of a crippling fear of HIV – even though his risk is non-existent. This is what characterises OCD, he suggests: it’s normal to have irrational thoughts but when you can’t get rid of them, the effects are debilitating. Adam has spent a vast amount of time quizzing the National Aids Helpline and trying to minimise his contact with blood, and he cites other extreme cases including a girl whose obsessive thoughts led her to eat a wall.

A science journalist, Adam also explores how the disorder has been treated over the years, along with the options available today. His fascinating book will prove valuable to those afflicted by OCD but also to anyone interested in the darker recesses of the mind.

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