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A Novel Cure

Antibiotics are over used, many drugs are deemed not to be cost effective or are just too expensive, and staff shortages or limited beds mean there’s often little point in going to hospital, so I consider the best prescription for many illnesses is a good book.  Which is exactly why myself and my writing partner Susan Elderkin published the Novel Cure.

Our alternative medicine cabinet recommends novels for a whole litany of ailments; we suggest what we consider to be the most appropriate books and summarise why they would help restore, treat or heal a malady.  For example we suggest The Leopard by Guiseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa as a cure for a loss of appetite, stating “One cannot but help but revel in the old patriarch’s appreciation of the sensual world. This is a novel that will help you rediscover your appetite: for food, for love, for the countryside.” Or what about Shane by Jack Schaefer as an antidote to panic attacks? The protagonist is a man of few words whom exudes calm and tackles the big problems of life in an undisturbed manner – definitely someone to ensure your blood pumps steadily and calmly.

And as for flu – we all know that as soon as a flu patient starts to read an Agatha Christie Novel, such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, they begin to feel better. Or there’s Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, for Man flu, which as we know can take weeks to recover from, hence the need for a 2 volume novel.

The idea for our book came from the bibliotherapy sessions we have run at the School of Life, in London, since 2008.  Susan and I met at Cambridge; we are not trained therapists, more extreme readers of fiction, but we have found that people really enjoy spending time with us, either simply discussing the books they like to read, like a glorified library session,  or they like the idea of being able to chat about their problems to a complete stranger.  After an hour long session we then suggest  up to 5 books, usually novels, that could help them at that particular time of their life.

Of course novels cannot replace medicine, and anyone with a physical illness should always see a doctor, but many ailments cause emotional pain as well as physical pain, and so we prescribe remedies for broken hearts as well as broken legs. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of our suggestions for a broken heart, (which needs little explaining) and Cleave, by Nikki Gemmel, is most appropriate for a broken leg as you hope the two characters will cleave together in the same way as your bones are rejoined.

Literature lovers have been using novels as salves for centuries and so we felt a compilation of suggested remedies would be a helpful handbook for every home. Sometimes the recommended novels have a compelling story that makes patients forget their disease; or it maybe that the rhythm of the prose works on the psyche, either stilling or stimulating. There will always be at least a temporary relief due to the power of literature to distract and transport.  And as with all medicines, the full course of treatment is advised for best results.

For more information go to The Novel Cure

Ella Berthoud
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