Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, The novel cure: An A-Z of literary remedies (Review)
I don’t usually blog about books before I’ve read them cover to cover, but I’m making an exception for Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin‘s The novel cure because it’s one of those books that’s best read in small doses (no pun intended). You see, it is a book of bibliotherapy, a book that recommends novels to read to cure almost any ailment you can think of.
Bibliotherapy is described in Wikipedia, but I’ll give you Berthoud and Elderkin’s definition:
the prescribing of fiction for life’s ailments.
I don’t want to give away too many treatments. After all, the authors need to eat. But, to give you a taste, here is a sample of ailments and their prescribed treatments:
- Daddy’s girl, being a: Can you guess the treatment? It’s Jane Austen’s Emma! You didn’t expect me not to start with Jane Austen did you? Emma, Berthoud and Elderkin say, “has been sent out into the world with an overly high opinion of herself and a self-centredness that can only bring her grief”. They suggest Emma should be seen as a cautionary tale and that girls at risk need to “stop playing the game and show him [their father] what a bad girl you can be”. “See: rails, going off the, for inspiration.” Are you getting the idea?
- Control freak, being a: The authors suggest two Australian books. Is there something these two Englishwomen are trying to tell we colonials? Both are books I’ve reviewed here, Elizabeth Harrower’s dark The watch tower (my review) and Graeme Simsion‘s comic The Rosie project (my review).
- Nose, hating your: What else could they suggest for this but Patrick Süskind‘s chilling Perfume. That’s a novel that’s not easy to forget. For all the horror of this novel, the authors manage to turn it to a positive purpose, one determined to help the self-esteem of those self-conscious about their noses!
As lighthearted as all this might sound, the authors do believe in the efficacy of literature to help ease (if not cure) both emotional and physical pain. They apparently hold highly successful bibliotherapy sessions and retreats in the UK. Among the ailments in the book is “Eating Disorder” and the two recommended books, Deborah Hautzig‘s Second star to the right and Jenefer Shute’s Life-size, are serious offerings for sufferers and their carers.
Like the good reference book it is, The novel cure includes see references (such as “Control, out of: See adolescence, alcoholism …”) and see also references (such as “Old age, horror of: See also amnesia, reading associated ….”). These helpful pointers warmed the cockles of my little librarian heart.
Scattered through the book are “Ten Best” lists, for which there is an index at the back so you can find them easily. One that made me laugh is “The Ten Best Novels For When You’ve Got A Cold”. As all Australians know, the best remedy for a cold is eucalyptus. It’s fitting then that Murray Bail‘s gorgeous novel Eucalyptus is top of the list.
There are two other indexes at the back of the book. One is the Index of Reading Ailments (for such life-threatening conditions as “Holiday, not knowing what novels to take on” and “Household chores, distracted by”). And the other is, of course, the Index of Novels and Authors. This makes the book useful for those of you who don’t have any ailments needing cure. You can see if your favourite novels are cures for others.
You will also see, if you look at this index, the breadth and depth of authors and their works covered in this book. I was thrilled to see many Australian authors represented, covering more than a century of Australian literature. As far as I can tell, every continent is covered. The authors include, for example, South African Lauren Beukes, Indian Rahul Bhattacharya, French Albert Camus, Mexican Laura Esquivel, Japanese Haruki Murakami, Russian Leo Tolstoy, and so on. This index comprises eight two-column pages.
To conclude, I’ll offer my own ailment and cure: Reading slump, being in a: Read The novel cure. You’re sure to find a book or two to cure you and, if you don’t, well, you’ll be reading anyhow!
Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
The novel cure: An A-Z of literary remedies
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2013
Cover design: WH Chong
(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)