The Novel Cure is an absolute treat for bibliophiles, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Compiled by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who set up what must be the first bibliotherapy practise in 2008, it’s a set of literary prescriptions for ailments, worries and all that life throws at us, from coping with family (Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy) to having the flu (Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).
Helpfully cross referenced, the book’s entries are arranged alphabetically by ailment with a set of comprehensive lists and indices at the back. Interspersed are words of advice for those of us incapable of imagining life without a book to hand, from having a non-reading partner – hard to conceive of this but I’m sure it must happen – to a tendency to read rather than live, all too easy to understand. Prescriptions are delivered with playful humour and a far-ranging knowledge. Suffering from fear of dinner parties? Try reading Ali Smith’s There but for the.. which may seem counterintuitive to those who’ve read it featuring as it does the guest who refuses to leave but the advice works. Nasty bout of humourlessness? There’s a list of ten novels to make you laugh, from Nora Ephron’s Heartburn to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. There’s a good deal of empathy as well as humour in Berthoud and Elderkin’s suggestions – if you’ve fallen out with your best friend, William Maxwell’s beautiful So Long, See you Tomorrow may well help you reconcile or at least understand your predicament. Victims of bullying are counselled to read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye or Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days while those who’ve lost a loved one may find solace in Suri Husvedt’s sublime What I Loved or Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone.
Readers have long known that novels can help us through pain – indeed, the Reading Agency launched their second set of mood boosting novels earlier this year to help patients suffering from depression – and this book celebrates literary solace with gentle humour and compassion. There are shelves groaning with books about books out there but this one’s more than worth your time. And if you want to know more about bibliotherapy, you can find Ella and Susan’s website here. The book’s much cheaper, though.