Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

This book by pyschoanalyst, Stephen Grosz, has been widely reviewed and deservedly so. When it arrived from the London Library, I opened it to flick through it and read the odd page, and that was it, I was hooked. I read it more or less in one sitting, drawn on by the enticing titles: 'How lovesickness keeps us from love,' 'On being boring' 'On secrets.' Grosz explains that the episodes described in the book are a distillation of more than 50,000 hours spent with patients, though of course some of the details have been altered. And distillation is the word: these are short pieces for the most part, and they are in a sense little detective stories in which the psychoanalyst assists the patient in uncovering what lies behind their unhappiness and inability to change their behaviour. They reminded me a little of Raymond Carver in the directness of the writing and in the humanity of the teller. I loved this rueful insight in 'Why parents envy their children' where Grosz points out that this kind of envy can also apply to teachers and pupils, and even psychoanalysts and patients: 'sometimes our patients are younger, brighter and financially more successful than we are. And it is not all that unusual that a psychoanalyst can help a patient solve a problem that the psychoanalyst himself has been with struggling unsuccessfully in his own life.' I don't want to say too much about individual stories as that would spoil them for readers, but I found them thought-provoking and moving. This is a book that many writers would find it useful to keep on their shelf.

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