In his novel, Boyle focuses not only on Mr. McCormick, but on the other characters that surround him. It is his development of Eddie, Mr. McCormick's chief nurse, and Katherine, Mr. McCormick's wife, that makes this novel a rich and involved analysis of the price of love and loyalty. Katherine marries Stanley McCormick without realizing the years of pain and loneliness she will face as the wife of a clinically insane man. Both her bravery and her coldness show the reader ways in which loved ones cope with mental illness. Eddie, a young nurse with his whole life ahead of him, faces his own demons as he treats Mr. McCormick. Although Stanley is the man receiving psychological treatment, it becomes apparent that almost all people harbor deep and trying demons.
The strength of the novel lies in Boyle's ability to infuse his narrative with both tragedy and comedy. While many authors could fall trap to making this a morose and depressing tale, Boyle infuses a sense of the comedic in almost every chapter, so that the reader finds herself laughing amidst the darkest of scenarios. Boyle is a master of the English language, and his descriptions and dialogue are riveting. I found myself stopping to read certain paragraphs aloud, the lyric quality of many of his paragraphs is striking. It is evident that Boyle spent considerable time researching the lives of the McCormicks and the time period in which they lived. The reader is easily transported back in time, and I found myself not wanting to leave the world that Boyle had crafted.
Ultimately this is a story about love. It is a story that calls into question the human desire for control, especially when the one we love is unable to perform or act in an acceptable way. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who is curious about psychology or about the nature of human love and commitment.