The Novel Cure: a literary prescription to ease your woes

The Novel Cure
The Novel Cure: Sarah receives her literary prescription. Picture: Sarah Purnell

By Sarah Purnell

I am led into a small, red room – a dramatic setting for my Bibiliotherapy session with Ella Berthoud, who is dressed in a long, sweeping tunic in a shimmering green; I can’t help but feel like there might be some sorcery afoot.

Settled on a scarlet throw, we begin.

One thing that amazes me is the way Berthoud seems able to pull almost any book out of her head and talk about it. She’s a human library.

We talk about my current reading habits and I tell her about the pile of YA fiction by my bed at home. To best describe my relationship with books I show her my tattoo of Edgar Allan Poe. I tell her how reluctant I’ve been to read contemporary fiction. I tell her about my dad. His current health problems. How it scares me.

I’m surprised how easily I find it to talk to her.

The key factor to my prescription? I want to be a writer. Once we get talking about Salman Rushdie, magical realism, Science Fiction, it feels like it’s almost obvious what I should be reading for my “literary remedy”. We need to find books that get me excited about narrative.

I’m given 1000 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Blindness by Jose Saramango. I have to say; I’m excited. These are new to me and all three books come recommended with a discussion about why I might like them, and a brief overview of the plot to whet my whistle!

When Berthoud asks if I listen to audiobooks, I laugh. We have had a difficult relationship, I explain. If I listen to audiobooks in bed, I fall asleep without fail. If I listen to them in car, I get distracted. And that’s just plain dangerous!

So, no audiobooks then. But I’m encouraged instead to try reading aloud, to share a story with someone else, and I’m intrigued. A Little Aloud is scribbled onto my prescription; a book written with the intention of being read aloud.

“Oh hey, I also really like dystopian fiction,” I remember. I’ve done 1984 so many times it’s got dog ears on its dog ears. So, finally, we come to We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Berthoud laughs saying that she doesn’t know why she is suggesting so many Russian authors,.

I admit I approached my bibliotherapy session with a certain amount of trepidation. Having a relatively full and happy “reading life” I wasn’t sure I was really the right kind of person to receive bibliotherapy. Also, as a heavy reader of Young Adult fiction, I was worried I wouldn’t fall into her remit. (A follow up to The Novel Cure will focus on children’s fiction, and so she is currently immersed in an abundance of YA and Teen books.)

But I think I have been converted. With the thousands of books available to us, there is, invariably, a book for any situation. But how do you find those books? The ones that you need the most? You talk to Ella Berthoud.

It was a fun experience, and I felt comforted and encouraged to be armed with my very own prescription. It was almost like some sort of magic had occurred.

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