This slim book of prose (37 pages) and poems (43 pages) is Australian native Les Murray's account of his formidable battle to overcome chronic depression. As a child and adult he experienced discord with his parents, troubles in school, crippling phobias, periods of incapacitating anxiety, and medical complications that nearly took his life. Murray describes himself as "mildly autistic" in childhood and at 70 years old, a person with Asperger's syndrome. It is through this lens that he writes uncompromisingly about personal struggles and trying to "kill the black dog," his metaphor for ridding himself of depression. He willingly participated in psychotherapy, took many medications, and as the book details, engaged in the deepest introspection, ultimately leaning on "poetry as personal therapy." Indeed, his poems attest powerfully to the cruel conditions of his life with titles such as "A Torturer's Apprentice," "Death from Exposure," and "Panic Attack." Beyond the therapeutic self-disclosure that is evident throughout the book, Murray, it would seem, pushes the message of one staying the course during tough times. As well, he lets us know that he never fully "kills the black dog" as much as learns to live with it. Although briefly told, this is a moving glimpse of one man's emotional discontent, presented earnestly and without self-pity, a snapshot of the person one is and can become in a complex and unforgiving world.
© 2011 James K. Luiselli
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 7 books and more than 240 book chapters and journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.