Edward has a history of alcoholism and substance abuse, as well as self harm. When we meet him in Default Setting – A Nervous Breakdown he has just split up with Jess, the girl he thought was the love of his life. She’s gone off with someone else. And so begins his descent again.
In fact, much of what Ed describes in the first person narration will be familiar to anyone who has encountered mental distress or ill health in any way. In the street people edge away from him ‘like they are scared that my sadness is infectious.’ He has friends, but for the main these are pub and club buddies, and besides, when you ask someone how they are, no one actually wants to know. Isolated and fighting, he tries to run away from his reality and emotions. But salvation and happiness isn’t to be found in a piece of cake, a glass of wine, or the harder stuff that he resorts to.
This short novel is punchy and to the point, detailing his pub fuelled nights, coke binges, dealings with dealers, fights and police warnings, and a suicide attempt that sees him in a psychiatric ward. It’s not for the easily shaken, because it does not glamourise addiction, depression, or suicide, but paints them in the stark and bleak colours that they cloud lives with. Simply written, it’s never going to be one of the literary greats, and certain areas of Ed’s life, such as his teaching career and relationships with family are not as satisfyingly developed as they could be, but this honest depiction of a harrowing experience is well worth a read.