Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Dear Dee - Sue Uden - Review and Author Interview

This novel depicts the torment a family goes through in trying to help their daughter Jackie who is suffering from mental illness. John and Nickii Tolley have two married daughters, Claire and Jackie. Jackie is separated from her husband Lytton, and from their children. Her parents are very worried about her, and the strain on them is evident. Jackie's father John, together with other daughter Claire, are both keen writers, and John is determined to complete his novel, to write Jackie's story, emphasising the pain that her husband Lytton has inflicted on her. Nickii becomes increasingly worried about how John's health may be affected as all of this is going on. 

It's a very moving, intensely emotional read that successfully tackles this difficult subject. I feel desperately sorry for Jackie, as when we meet her she is not getting anywhere near enough help or support with her condition from her incompetent doctor. The author does not shy away from the pain, sadness and loneliness that this sort of depressive illness can cause for the sufferer; the dark feelings and the anguish and frustration at feeling so low and trapped, and not being able to express oneself. 'Inside Jackie was screaming, 'Help me. Help me....' But the words wouldn't come.' The struggle to get through the day, when feeling so depressed and powerless; 'It was as though her body were made of stone and cemented to the chair she was sitting in.' This is a very accurate portrayal of how it feels to suffer from depression, to feel trapped and isolated, to have lost one's own voice and the strength and ability to express oneself. In another situation, with family around her, the author describes how Jackie feels sitting there amongst them as they going about various activities. 'But it was as though all of these things had happened on the outside of a huge bubble, inside which Jackie sat alone...She could see and hear through it; but it blurred her vision and toned down the sound, and it stopped her touching.'

Equally, the writer successfully portrays the exasperation and strain in those around the sufferer, who care for them and want to help, but don't have the answers. 'The frustration that all their love and support couldn't make Jackie better had become too great.' They want to help their daughter, but they can't see the best way of doing this, and wish things were better. John's thoughts reveal the conflict between his love for Jackie and wanting to understand, to help and protect her; she is still his little girl, but the nagging thought persists that she must change things herself. 'It wasn't her fault. Time and again he had to tell himself that it was not her fault; but he seemed to be dogged by a rising impatience and peevishness over which he had no control.'

I don't want to reveal any further information about the plot, as it is for future readers to discover what happens with Jackie and her family, except to say that the ending is not without hope. This is a well-written first novel tackling what is a devastating illness with sensitivity, intelligence and insight.


'Dear Dee' is published by Olympia Publishers in the UK and available to buy now, click here for the link to the Amazon UK page or click here for Amazon USA. 

A proportion of the sale of the book will go to The Stroke Association and Mind Mental Health Charity.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy for me to read and give an unbiased review.

Sue Uden is one of the authors involved in the loveahappyending project. You can visit Sue's own website here. 

Interview with the author, 
Sue Uden 

What inspired you to write 'Dear Dee'?

The novel itself tells the complete answer to that question, but nothing is spoiled by saying that the book is based on close hand experience of mental illness, and I felt strongly that (a) there was not enough help to support either the sufferer or the family and I hoped to highlight that.  And, (b) that by writing about the problems, just maybe it could help to raise awareness and reduce the stigma involved. 

Do you think issues surrounding mental illness are well represented in fiction?

Hmm..  There are many wonderful novels that I can think of that deal with the subject of mental illness.  Many, many years ago - almost before any of the experiences covered in Dear Dee began - I read Antonia White's trilogy of 'Frost in May, 'The Sugar House' and 'Beyond the Glass' in which she describes a mental breakdown.  Then there are the novels of Mark Haddon. I have read two of his, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which tells the story of a young man with autism; and 'A Spot of Bother' the story of George Hall and his family where George has a crisis verging on a breakdown.  Then there was 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest',  Doris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook', the novels of Janet Frame and recently Emma Henderson's novel, 'Grace Williams Says It Loud' which was dedicated to her older sister, Clare, who spent her life in an institution.  That was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2011 and is on my TBR list. There are many many more that I can think of and obviously many that I don't know about.

In fact concentrating on the answer to that question has made me see what truly wonderful novels there are out there which have already been written on varying stages and conditions of mental illness.  And has also made question why I ever dared to think that I could have a crack at joining them - scary and humbling!

Do You Have a Favourite Book?

Ooh I always find this one so hard because there are so many 'favourite' books!  My answers are always different so I suppose that means that no, I don't actually have a favourite!  But this time I am going to choose Mole's Castle by Elleston Trevor because it made me hoot with laughter (of the LOL variety) when I was a child.

What are you currently reading?

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley - going for a bit of a 'classic' for a change at the moment.

Do You Have a Favourite Writer?

Another question where it is almost impossible to choose from a lifetime of reading fantastic authors but often my answer to this one is - Margaret Forster.

Thank you very much for your time, Sue!


  1. One huge thank you, Lindsay, for such a detailed, thoughtful, perceptive and flattering review. Having only just read it for the first time, I don't know quite what else to say except that I seem to have a comfortably warm feeling right now... xx

  2. Great review and a lovely interview, I always like getting to know the authors better and Sue is no exception. Whenever I think of Dear Dee the words 'compassion' 'sensitive' and 'moving' always come to mind and I think every review I've read identifies with those emotions too.

    Sue Fortin

  3. Love the way you have with words Lins - fab review as always and good questions for Sue that help us as readers get to know the authors a little better x

  4. A great post Lindsay and Sue Uden is a very talented author. When I read Dear Dee it had me laughing and crying, I thought it was uplifting and liberating. Every family has to deal with whatever life throws in their path - death, divorce, mental illness, chronic diseases - and this moving book was a delight to read! Love your review Lindsay - wonderfully eloquent and apt.

  5. A great review that does the book proud. Oh, and I've got another book recommendation for Sue, with a mental illness theme, quite an old one now and I've forgotten the author's name, but it was 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden', it's well worth seeking out.

  6. Brilliant review and interview. I really fancy this book and will be adding it to my read list. I really like the way you have given us a good insight to the book's content.

  7. A great review - and a great interview. Thanks.

  8. Fab review, really well written and eloquent, and I love the use of quotes from the book. Dear Dee is high on my TBR and I can't wait... Great interview too, it's lovely to get to know the author better. Thanks alround, well done!

  9. Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to read the review and Sue's comments, and to make comments here. Very kind of you to leave this feedback. Hope many more will read the book.

  10. I'm always interested in books that portray mental illness realistically, it's something that affects everyone either directly or indirectly. Thanks for the review.

  11. Really interesting interview and review. I have read this book and it is a really good read one og the best books I read last year x


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