Lorna Martin: Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (3 stars)

(John Murray)


Lorna Martin's life is a mess – or so she thinks. By most people's standards the 30-something Glaswegian journalist has very little to worry about: she has a successful career with the Observer newspaper, earns a decent living and is perfectly healthy. But she can't stop crying and, in classic chick-lit style, is struggling to form healthy relationships with men. And she's a nervous wreck.

With a £10,000 bank loan, Martin embarks on a year-long course of psychotherapy in an attempt to come to terms with herself and her ongoing existential crisis. Woman on the Verge charts her journey through analysis as she unravels the source of her various neuroses – a cocktail of jealousy, anger and perfectionism – and emerges a calmer and more rational person.

Eavesdropping on Martin's inner monologue is entertaining up to a point. Her therapy sessions were detailed in a weekly column for Grazia magazine (a clue to Woman on the Verge's target audience) but it's a challenge to make this kind of voyeurism sustain a full-length book.

What lifts Woman on the Verge beyond the tedium of real-life chick-lit is Martin's lack of self-pity along with her humour and well-paced, fluent and compelling writing. Witty and able to laugh at herself, she is good company for the book's 300 pages.

However, her anecdotes about misadventures on foreign assignments and her clanging insecurity at Observer editorial meetings – once mistaking Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez for the band Travis – are more engaging than the navel-gazing and Bridget Jones-style will-she-won't-she get a man subplot.


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