The Talking Cure by Gillian Straker and Jacqui Winship*
Straker and Winship combine their extensive experience as psychotherapists to present a range of relatable ‘case stories’ (as opposed to case studies).
I enjoyed this book from a therapy-practice point-of-view, however, although the authors are eloquent, they did not offer the pithy insights that I found in books such Lori Gottleib’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, or the warmth of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things.
If you are curious about therapy (particularly relational psychotherapy, where the therapist-patient relationship is used to understand more about the patient’s troubles) this would be a good place to start. As the authors note, if you don’t see yourself in some of their stories, they have failed in their intention for the book. The stories are relatable (if not a little contrived), and the checklists and ‘what can I do?’ sections at the end of each chapter are very useful and would actually provide enough prompts for many people to make some constructive changes in their relationships.
The Sunday Story Club by Doris Brett and Kerry Cue*
I love the idea of the ‘salon‘ – the whole concept of deep listening; being exposed to new ideas and perspectives; and the power of the narrative, appeals immensely (I attribute this appeal partly to Priya Parmar’s superb historical account of the Bloomsbury group in Vanessa and Her Sister). Brett and Cue have presented plenty of ideas for establishing your own salon but the bulk of this book is devoted to the stories that emerged at their ‘Sunday Story Club’. The stories are mildly interesting, but unfortunately did not offer the level of personal insight that I had anticipated (with the exception of a woman’s account of growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors and discovering that her brother was a cruel bully).
As I was reading, I had an unhelpful visual – a bunch of middle-aged women sitting around a comfortable living room, a glass of wine in hand and a generous cheese platter in front of them, talking about themselves… No doubt this is grossly unfair (and pot/ kettle etc etc) but I did begin to wonder if the real value in these stories is hearing them first-hand.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy*
Boarding school stories are usually a hotbed of intense emotions, entangled lives, and the co-existence of isolation and comradery. Sweet Days is none of that. Instead, it’s a cool, crisp account of a boarding school in Switzerland, which has an oppressive, slightly mad atmosphere. Jaeggy’s narrator tells of her friendship with two girls – the detached Frederique, and the cheerful Micheline. Jaeggy uses the contrasts between the girls to explore the friendships and expectations of teenage girls.
Jaeggy writes in spare, pared-back sentences –
It’s common knowledge that a new leader will hate the predecessors’ favourites. A boarding school is like a harem.
Although I enjoyed the writing, the book did not deliver the suspense that was promised on the blurb.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi*
What just happened? Do readers always feel like this when they close one of Oyeyemi’s stories?
I don’t even know where to begin – this is a curious, challenging modern fable combining the legacy of a family gingerbread recipe, a faraway land called Druhástrana, changelings, and elements of well known fairy stories such as Hansel & Gretel.
Oyeyemi’s writing is undeniably delightful – I enjoyed so many of the strange descriptions (there is one glorious scene where a character is describing a dream dominated by nine-year old girls wearing judges’ wigs, and says that the girls look like ‘demented lambs’).
But did I enjoy it…? I still don’t know. The story meanders and the author asks a lot of her reader toward the end, but at the same time, I’m dreaming of gingerbread and Druhástrana.
A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge. “It’s like noshing on the actual and anatomical heart of somebody who scarred your beloved and thought they’d got away with it,” the gingerbread addict said. “That heart, ground to ash and shot through with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon. You are phenomenal. You’ve ruined my life forever. Thank you.
*this post contains affiliate links