Book Review: The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations, by Frank Tallis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_incurable_romanticLove makes the world go round, or so the songs say, but what happens when love goes wrong? This book gives the ordinary person, a secret glimpse into the world of a Psychotherapist. Frank Tallis has already written three works on psychology for the lay reader and is himself a clinical psychologist. By using examples from his experiences, he illustrates the many problems that arise in the name of love. Each chapter deals with a different story and he gives the background research for different disorders. So not only are we drawn into the problem, we are allowed to see the variety of tools available in searching for a solution.

Tallis begins by reminding the reader that love dominates our world through writing, movies, songs and history. His own interest with odd things led him to psychotherapy. As he says, ‘For me, psychotherapy is as much about narrative as it is about science and compassion, perhaps even more so.’

So these stories draw the reader into a strange and unsettling world. Megan, who falls in love with her dentist and becomes obsessed to the point of arrest. The elderly Mavis, unable to cope without her late husband. Tallis discovers it was not their shared interests but something more unusual that bound them together. Each story is told with compassion and the endings are often inconclusive. Years later, Tallis is still wondering how some patients have survived.

I found this book fascinating as love as an obsession was not something I have considered. While there is a lot of background history about the science of treatments, it is a readable book for the ordinary public. Tallis is a gifted writer who captures the essence of the problem and his narratives are sympathetic and informative. I see Ian McEwan endorses the book on the cover and I could see writers of romance or mystery finding the text very helpful in the development of a character. It brought to mind McEwan characters from On Chesil Beach.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations
by Frank Tallis
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349142951

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George


Available in bookstores nationwide.

This book is special for the way in which it celebrates books, and for the journey it takes us on from broken heart to beginning to live a full life again. I will say up-front that this isn’t quite my usual read, but it has certainly got a wide audience, and it is for this audience I will write this review.

Jean Perdu’s life has been suspended for twenty-one years, since his lover left, and never returned. Perdu has dedicated these years to healing other people, through prescribing them books to read from his ‘literary apothecary’, which is a bookstore barge on the Seine River in Paris. While he has the seemingly magical ability to know where people are in their lives, and to prescribe books for them that suit their emotional needs at the time; he cannot seem to heal himself. He lives in a small flat in a building on Rue Montagnard, along with Max Jordan, a novelist who has written one bestseller, and a ragtag community of souls, held together by their concierge Madame Rosalette and the owner, Madame Bernard.

Perdu decides to help the sad Catherine, who has just moved in after suffering a nasty break-up, by giving her some furniture from a room he has not opened since his lover left; as well as of course some books to help her to cry. When opening up the kitchen table he gave to her, Catherine discovers a letter from Perdu’s ex-lover, one he never opened and read. After an evening with Catherine, Perdu finally decides that now is the time to open this letter, 21 years after receiving it.

What he learns from the letter sends him on a journey right across France, to Bonnieux in Provence. He casts off from his book barge’s landing stage after a great deal of indecision, slightly accidentally bringing aboard Max Jordan and a few dockside cats.
The journey that follows is both internal and external, as Perdu and Jordan fight their insecurities and demons both separately and together. It is a story of an unlikely friendship that develops between the bibliophile and the confused young man, as they move their boat through the locks of France. The book has a cast that tangos, whispers and creaks across the pages. Perdu solves a literary mystery along the way, with the help of a women they saved from the river Seille, and after visiting the literary mecca of Cuisery and other towns, they carry on to the home of Perdu’s ex-lover Manon.

This is a book for the Francophile in your family, and for any passionate book-lover. I enjoyed it immensely, and I will go along with the recommendation on the back cover that it is one for people who enjoyed Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (loved that book). Perhaps it is one for your significant female other this mother’s day?

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Little Paris Bookshop
by Nina George
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349140353

Book review: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

cv_lets explore diabetes with owlsThis book is in bookstores now.

I’m a David Sedaris fan from way back, but that doesn’t mean that I’m lining up at the bookshop when his latest comes out. I own three of his books already – four might be excessive. But this title intrigued me – Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. What did that mean? Had David been diagnosed with diabetes and was now going to lampoon it with his caustic wit, making it embarrassing and funny and an infinitely cooler thing to have? As someone with Type 1 diabetes, I hoped this would be the case.

But no, there is nothing to do with diabetes in this book. There is gum disease and fatty tumours. There are colonoscopies and OCD diary entries. But the diabetes reference is a red herring, inspired by an inscription in a fan’s book, when Sedaris refused to write ‘believe in yourself’, or whatever it was he was instructed to write, for fear that his book would end up in a second hand bookshop.

I do admire a man who can write an essay about having his teeth scaled and remain endearing. I don’t find him as uproariously funny as I did the first time round, when I read Naked.

In a way, Sedaris has found a formula. He begins with a contemporary shred – a desire to take up swimming again, say – segues to his nutty family, mentions an exotic animal (sea turtles! Albino peacocks! Flying squirrels! Kookaburras!) and then returns to the set-up to round things off. Still, reading Sedaris’s joyous, misanthropic, visceral take on the world is like hanging out with an old friend who tells the same story over again, but you humour him because it may have morphed into something completely different this time round.

Besides, I am endlessly fascinated by his family. I love the vignettes of his mother, smoking cigarettes and pouring wine out of a 50 gallon jug on the bench whilst pregnant with his younger brother. And his dad, who strips down to his underpants as soon as he comes home, his physique like a wrestler’s, albeit not in top condition. He yells at and paddles his kids, calling Sedaris a big fat zero. This is the reason Sedaris writes – he’s still trying to prove his dad wrong. And yet, when Sedaris phones him to say that his book is number 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, his dad replies, ‘Well, it’s not number 1 on the Wall Street Journal list.’

My other fascination comes in Sedaris describing his process. He is a compulsive diary writer. He can’t leave the house until he has transcribed all of the funny things he’s heard and seen – he says he feels too ‘antsy and incomplete’.

He has particular convictions about the word diary: ‘A journal, in my opinion, is a repository of ideas – your brain on the page. A diary, by contrast, is your heart. As for “journaling,” a verb that cropped up around the same time as “scrapbooking,” that just means you’re spooky and have way too much time on your hands.’

This affords me a view of Sedaris the writer – someone whose material is all around him. He is constantly harvesting story scraps, just as he spends every afternoon picking up rubbish in his West Sussex neighbourhood. I’m reminded of a talk given by Lily Richards at the Auckland Library earlier this year, about when she met Sedaris, and he peered at her glasses, giving them his approval. She wanted a meeting of minds but he wasn’t after conversation – he was after material. And in Lily’s case, spectacles inspiration.

One part of this book which I think is a big mistake is Sedaris’s forays into fiction. In each of them he adopts a voice and spits out the hateful, homophobic rhetoric that rednecks might. It’s cartoonish, it isn’t nuanced. Stop it, David, I wanted to say. You’re preaching to the choir. Maybe it was good therapy for him – to become the person that would never read his books. But they made me cringe and wish that his editor was less indulgent.

The other mistake: the China chapter. Sedaris hates Chinese food – it makes him squeamish, and his squeamishness extends to the whole country. As he points out the turds and the hoik, he wishes it were more sanitary, like Japan, where people rinse the dog pee off the pavement with water bottles. How could he get away with being so xenophobic? I suppose he’s made his millions by speaking his mind, and no one’s going to stop him now.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, with reservations. If you were new to Sedaris you might want to start with Naked or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. And you might like to listen to him on This American Life, to appreciate his deadpan delivery in a nasal drawl. Now, when I read his books, I hear him reading to me, a black-humoured uncle in a Louis XIV armchair, insisting on showing me his ingrown toenail, shocking me with his hilarious childhood tales and random hatreds, and his sometimes poignant view of the world around us.

Reviewed be Sarah Laing
(Ed: Sarah is a writer whose third book The Fall of Light is out in July).

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
by David Sedaris
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349121635