Book review: Welcome home sir

This brief book review by Frank Norman was first published in the 2013 Mill Hill Essays.

This book is about an academic researcher who is living with mental illness. Ethan Meyer is a hypochondriac, to a surprising degree. Meanwhile in his lab there are fishy goings on that build up to a crisis, just at the same time that his personal life builds to a crisis.

The book is a series of short chapters, making it very readable. Ethan comes across as a sensitive and caring individual, concerned to do the best for the junior researchers working in his lab. They are a mixed bunch, from the deceitful Brian and trusting Rebecca to the troubled Sylvia and a hard-working Chinese student, Jianguo. Caplan captures some of the flavour of the life of a senior academic, describing high-level committee meetings, and the outrageous behaviour of bullying meeting chairs.

While the main action of the book is set in Ethan’s research lab, there are regular flashbacks to his time in the Israeli army, and the disturbing or formative experiences he went through. They shed light on Ethan’s current condition and his approach to life, though the links to the flashbacks sometimes seem a little forced.

The darkness of the novel is leavened by generous helpings of humour, and dialogue that flows very naturally. It is well-paced and builds up to a satisfying climax and resolution.

Welcome home sir by Steve Caplan was published in 2011.

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