Alastair Campbell's Unflinching "All In The Mind"

Alastair Campbell, the formidable press chief under Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair, started his illustrious career writing erotica for the men's magazine Forum. Now the artful propagandist—who coined the term "A People's Princess" on the death of Diana—has returned to his fiction roots with his debut novel, "All in the Mind."

The book tackles the thorny subject of mental illness, which still carries a heavy stigma in Westminster circles. It's a theme with which Campbell is familiar: after his own alcohol-induced breakdown in 1986, he has spent the past two decades on and off the psychiatrist's couch. Campbell appears to have poured much of himself into his story's protagonist, Martin Sturrock, an overworked shrink who's on the verge of losing his mind. Like Campbell, Sturrock is a man at the top of his profession who is nevertheless prone to depressive "plunges." Alcoholism also plagues another main character, a health minister whose dependency on drink is wrecking his job and marriage (Campbell admitted he used to drink up to 16 pints a day as a young man).

"All in the Mind" is shockingly frank about the "black dog" (as Winston Churchill called his depression) that secretly plagues many of Westminster's elite. Campbell's descriptions of depression and addiction are unflinchingly brutal, written in a racing, staccato prose that makes one think the author may be trying to purge his own desperate experiences onto the page. Of course, for many readers, the book's greatest pleasure will be trying to surmise which details are pure fiction and which are autobiographical (Campbell's protagonist is obsessed with prostitutes; another one is a sex addict turned fitness freak). Campbell maintains that aspects of the story are pure invention—but like any good PR man, he's leaving his audience to separate the truth from the spin.