Unparalleled Sorrow: Barry Dickins

It’s not often you find someone writing with such untrammelled frankness about an illness that still has some degree of stigma. There have been accounts by other writers – such as Lewis Wolpert and William Styron – but Dickens’ guiltlessness and almost childlike naivety make this account very special.

By his own admission, Dickins has been ‘fond of a drink’ and suffered wild mood swings for all his life, and for most of his life he has managed these reasonably well. In 1982, he met and married Sarah Moggridge and fell totally and irretrievably in love with her. After many years of trying, their son Louis was born and Barry fell totally and irretrievably in love with him, too. Then one day, Sarah told Barry she didn’t love him anymore; the drinking, the intense moods, the directionlessness of his life had sucked it out of her. Whether it was the collapse of his marriage or his incessant insomnia that pushed Barry into a complete breakdown is unclear. His decline was so severe that he required radical intervention and let Sarah take him to hospital, where he spent the next six months on massive doses of drugs and in indifferent therapy.

This is a remarkable book, beautifully written, brimming with humour and sadness – and with no small measure of the charming Dickins pathos.