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Book Review   |    
The Portrait
Eric D. Lister, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 1999; doi:
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by Charles Atkins; New York City, St. Martin's Press, 1998, 264 pages, $23.95

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Charles Atkins, a Yale-affiliated psychiatrist, is the latest in an ever-growing list of psychiatrists who have mined their experience in the consulting room to construct a popular novel. The Portrait, Dr. Atkins' first book, is a novel of suspense told from the perspective of a gifted painter who suffers from unstable bipolar illness.

The protagonist, Chad, is appreciative of psychiatric help he has received on the one hand, but enamored of his hypomanic and manic states on the other hand. He suffered the trauma of a disastrous manic break earlier in his life. Nonetheless, he remains committed to skirting on the edge of control. His art borrows from the images of his psychotic experiences and taps into the energy of his hypomanic states.

We meet Chad at the opening of a one-man show that catapults him into undreamed-of recognition. Then a recent painting of his psychiatrist disappears, the psychiatrist is mysteriously murdered, and Chad is both suspect in the murder and prey to the actual killer. The action is steady and intense, introducing us along the way to Chad's first psychiatrist, to a beguiling detective, and to a dangerous figure who emerges from the protagonist's past.

Dr. Atkins' novel is enjoyable reading, and in most respects it rings true to clinical experience. His psychiatrists are human and humane. His depictions of bipolar illness and the patient's experience of this illness are absolutely on target. Dr. Atkins makes his protagonist an arresting, if a somewhat romanticized, figure without for a second romanticizing the experience of psychosis, and for that he earns high marks.

Only two aspects of the novel did not ring quite true to me. The first involved the willingness of Chad's psychiatrist to see him only once a week even though Chad was millimeters away from full-blown psychosis. The second involved the depiction of the ultimate villain, who seemed somewhat more a Hollywood caricature than a true-to-life sociopath.

These quibbles aside, Dr. Atkins has provided us with an enjoyable work of suspense that, for once, paints psychiatrists in realistic and quite positive terms while sharing a clinician's understanding of the complexities of mental illness. He is to be congratulated.

Dr. Lister is a managing partner in Ki Associates, an organizational consultation firm based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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