Title: If I Were You: A psychologist puts himself on the couch

Author: Peter Quarry

Publisher: Hardie Grant Books, February 2022; RRP: $35.00

As a fundamentally nosy person, I enjoy a good memoir. I like hearing about a person’s life, I like being included in secrets previously unsaid and I like the reflection that recounting the past often prompts. Peter Quarry’s If I Were You: A psychologist puts himself on the couch well and truly delivers this voyeuristic pleasure, but it takes it further. Quarry isn’t just interested in what his life means to himself, he’s interested in what it means for you.

If I Were You has an unusual format: throughout the book, Quarry writes letters about his life as “Pete” to his psychologist persona, “PQ”, and then responds to them. Going in, I wasn’t sure how well this would work as a mechanism. Would it feel contrived? Would PQ’s letters feel like they were tailored to prompt exactly the responses that Quarry wanted to write about as Pete? Would the psychoanalysis PQ offered on those responses really achieve anything other than to say “I agree”?

It turns out that Quarry is a complex person, full of contradictions. He is wild and hedonistic, while also being industrious and showing a deep need for security. Once I finished reading the book, I could no longer be surprised by how well the format worked.

Because it does work well. It works superbly. Pete is almost always willing to follow the path that PQ guides him on, but not always. I found myself taking notes—“Laura, this is how you tell a therapist that you’d rather explore something else”—because it was genuinely easy to get lost in the narrative that said these were two distinct characters. When Pete says that something PQ said resonates with him, I don’t hear a person patting himself on the back for crafting an insightful sentence, I hear a man genuinely struck by a perspective he hadn’t considered. By putting himself on the couch, Quarry gains a distance from his life that allows new ideas to surface.

Quarry isn’t just here for the catharsis, though. His main motivation with this book is to inspire reflection in others. Through the mechanism of PQ, he is able to outline exactly how anyone could go about examining their own life as he has done, and I have to say it was very effective for me. Though on the surface Quarry and I have very little in common, I noted several times how much I related to what he was saying and daydreamed about what my session with a PQ would uncover.

Quarry writes very early on that he’s not interested in the recounting of a life that doesn’t delve deeper. He doesn’t want “mere description”, he wants “examination”. This is both addressed to himself, as a way to cement a purpose that would remain in sight for the entire book, and also to anyone who would like to follow his example. It’s like he’s saying, “Here. Take these questions and do it yourself. But think when you do!”

When reviewing a book, I think the most important question is not “was this good?” (and it was), but “did this do what it set out to do?”. Quarry makes this easy to figure out by stating his objectives clearly in his introduction. He wants to explore his life, inspire similar explorations in his readers and trigger empathy, admiration and shock at his exploits.

I greatly enjoyed reading If I Were You. It felt honest and I did indeed empathise with and admire Pete (and PQ for that matter). More than that, I closed the book raring to put my own life under the microscope.

Ballarat Writers Incorporated is delighted to announce that Peter Quarry, author of If I Were You: A psychologist puts himself on the couch, will be coming to Ballarat in April 2023 to deliver a workshop, based on his book, on how to write a memoir that goes deeper than a recounting of events.

Reviewed by: Laura Wilson

Review copy provided by the publisher