This covers Yates' familiar (and heavily autobiographical) themes: alcohol, strained relationships, lack of communication, dull job in advertising/media, amateur dramatics, time in the army, depression etc and takes it to new depths: the descent into madness. Yet, as ever, he finds a new slant, so the story is simultaneously fresh and familiar.
It starts fairly dramatically, and follows the subsequent ups and downs of John Wilder's 30s - a compelling read. As well as the usual traumas for a Yates protagonist, issues arising from the church, parental expectations and physical inferiority are also thrown into the mix. John Wilder wants to "find order in chaos" and glimpses the redemptive power of self-esteem, yet is always striving for something of which he is not quite sure, sometimes exacerbated by a compulsion to say the worst about himself.
The strength of this book is more in the plot and slightly less in the language than some of his others (a spindly Christmas tree is too obvious a metaphor), though "the slope of his back must have been eloquent" was a striking image. Nevertheless, this is more polished than Young Hearts Crying and certainly has more layers (Yates analysing himself through the story of a character undergoing analysis and unburdening himself by writing about it) - Charlie Kaufman should film it.