Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin starting sharing novels when they were students at Cambridge 25 years ago. Now they are both married with families but continue their love of literature through a bibliotherapy service based in the School of Life in London. Since 2008, they have been suggesting books to clients to alleviate various conditions.
Most of us have at one time or another felt compelled to read a novel which then sweeps us off our feet by directly addressing a relationship, vocational, or spiritual problem that has been bothering us for years. Novels can do that and there are plenty of them to choose from as we chart our yearnings and needs. Berthoud and Elderkin write:
"When you're engrossed in a novel, unable to tear yourself from the page, you are seeing what a character sees, touching what a character touches, learning what a character learns. You may think you're sitting on the sofa in your living room, but the important parts of you — your thoughts, your senses, your spirit — are somewhere else entirely. 'To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company,' said Andre Gide. No one comes back from such a journey quite the same."
The Novel Cure is an apothecary of literary solutions from the last 2,000 years to ailments, problems, and afflictions running from Abandonment to Zestlessness. The 751 books covered give the reader a wide range of material to choose from in order to settle upon a treatment.
Here are some examples:
For Apathy, read The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain and then ponder the cure of an overhaul of the mind: "the novel is written with such rattling exuberance that it's impossible to read without becoming physically buzzed. By the end, you'll be up and about with a bounce in your step, throwing caution to the wind in your determination to have a hand in fate, setting you on a more spontaneous and proactive — if slightly reckless — new tack."
For Fear of Death, read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "As the novel spans a full century, death occurs often and matter-of-factly and the characters accept their part in the natural order of things — an attitude that, in time, may rub off on you."
For Being In a Jam, read Life of Pi by Yann Martel: "Keep this novel at hand whenever you are attempting to find a way out of your own (we hope, less sticky) jams. The potential for mastery in even so slight and hungry a boy as Pi is inspiring."
An added value to The Novel Cure are some wonderful lists and essays by Berthoud and Elderkin.