Book Diary: The Novel Cure (Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin)

This will be a book diary about a book diary, of sorts.  Which perhaps makes it a metablog?  Or post-modern?  Or post-postmodern?  I’ve lost track.

Whatever this blog is, The Novel Cure is ‘An A-Z of Literary Remedies’.  It was written with support from The School of Life and the bibliotherapy service provided there.  In fact, Berhould and Elderkin founded the bibliotherapy service at The School of Life.  The authors – friends from Cambridge – began to prescribe books to one another, for ailments both physical and emotional, when studying as undergraduates.


I think the idea of bibliotherapy is an excellent one and something that I believe the bookish do naturally, especially between other bookish people.  For example, my sister and I have shared books and traded their values our whole lives, ever since we passed, back and forth between us, the complete set of Enid Blyton’s ‘Secret Seven’ series (mail-ordered for us by our parents, and which came as a matching set with fake leather covers and red ribbons as page markers).  My sister aside, there is also a boyfriend who hadn’t read a book since he left school whom I converted into an addict: success.  And a failure: a friend who asked for something to get lost in and after I handed over a Murakami, had returned it to me within 24 hours, only a few pages turned, with the explanation that she didn’t like ‘things that weren’t based in reality’.  We are no longer friends (we are really).

So the concept is one that I’m sold on.  However, something I wasn’t expecting was how enjoyable the entries were to read on their own.  Just flicking through the listings themselves and the way that they have been written – with much love – manages to address and console whatever you are suffering from without having to go near the actual novels prescribed.  Which makes them kind of cures within cures, the essence of a novel within another.  That said, I am going to read The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (a book I would have passed over completely otherwise, due to the blurb and the cover), because how could one not after this recommendation:  “Hazzard is a masterly writer who dissects emotions with surgical precision, and will elevate you to new levels of emotional understanding.”  I’m not telling which ailment it was listed under.

Finally, the breath and scope of the cures is really, really impressive.  And envy inducing.  And brings out the fear that I haven’t read enough of the classics.  For which I refer myself to pages 229 and 432 of this book, respectively.


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