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Posted: March 21, 2021

Primary Obsessions is an important work

Book Review

By Derryll White

Demers, Charles (2020).  Primary Obsessions.

“This disease comes with a package: shame.  When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.”  – Ruby Wax

Charles Demers is fun to read. He is so consciously Left-Coast liberal in his character set-ups and descriptions of Vancouver that that he ably sets the reader up for the very serious sub-text of his story, that unashamed conversations around mental illness are required of us all.

Demers has a light touch. He takes the subject of mental illness seriously but he makes his central character, Dr. Annick Boudreau, very caring, human and approachable. She has a serious commitment to the ethics of her profession. She gives the reader a very good understanding of how a psychologist works. Annick is not quite as effective as a PI, but she does get the job done.

This is an important work. Dr. Boudreau lays out the real agony of primary obsession OCD, and does it in a way we can all talk about it. The sleeping giant of mental illness needs to be addressed. Canadians walk away from it blindly, failing to recognize the spreading agony of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Charles Demers has done us all the favour of introducing the subject of mental illness to common discourse.  Well done!

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Excerpts from the novel:

COFFEE – Putting her store-bought cappuccino down on the office kitchen counter, Annick prepared the first urn of collective coffee, though the office was ideologically riven by conflicting views as to caffeine’s role in exacerbating anxiety disorders.  The tea-drinkers could be entombed with their precious rooibos and peppermint, for all she cared.

VANCOUVER – Rather than booking another car share, Annick decided to ride one of the creaking electric cable buses running westbound along Hastings Street, through the sedimentary layers of Vancouver’s history of class war, falling fortunes and renewed leases on life: along the thoroughfare were blocks of the city as it had once been, bruised and bruising, worse for wear, and there were glossed and polished blocks that had largely shed the gravity of the city’s social past, with specialty cheese shops and Italian scooter dealerships, and in between there were aspirational blocks, in transition between the two, with well-guarded convenience stores abutting condo marketing storefronts and juice companies.

COFFEE – Annick nearly checked her phone before taking her first sip, then decided that she had delayed gratification for long enough already, and that she had suffered sufficiently in order to enjoy her due.  Every one of the tasting notes that on her more cynical days, she assumed they must be pulling out of the air, today stood up on her tongue and proudly declared its presence: tones of hazelnuts and persimmon, dark chocolate and post-war compromise; lavender, citrus and Mom and Dad getting back together.  She must have been showing the full extent of her shuddering enjoyment of those first few sips, because when she looked back at the 22-year-old, she was blushing.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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