Book Review: The Novel Cure – An A-Z Of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

June 12, 2014



This is a book about books, and also about a love of books – hell, an all-abiding passion for the things. In the course of prescribing literature, perspectives and themes meant to help readers come to terms with, ignore, solve or, yes, cure any number of ailments, authors Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin mention around 550 books. And they write about each of them with affection, intimate knowledge and a good deal of humour.

There’s a good deal of novelty value to the concept, as suggestions range from reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness under the entry “cancer, caring for someone with” to considering Goethe’s The Sorrows Of Young Werther when experiencing “love, unrequited”.

But as a concept, finding solutions in literature – a particularly enjoyable version of cramming for exams using your old textbooks – is such a solid idea that 450 pages of suggestions in that area doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

The sense of anticipation regarding what title Berthoud and Elderkin will unpack next continues throughout the book, but ultimately the project’s greatest triumph is not in its collecting hundreds of literary ideas in a single place but the palpable sense of enjoyment taken in doing so. The Novel Cure is a book that begs you to finish reading it as soon as possible so that you can move on to reading others – and as wide and eclectic a range as possible.

It’s a reference book for how to develop and indulge a life-long passion as much as it is an elaborate, comprehensive reading list and it’s likely that its sturdy hard cover will be given a thorough workout as it is consulted, lent out, returned and re-read over and over again.

Berthour and Elderkin’s advice extends to the way books should be treated, and one entry heartily encourages physical interaction with whatever you’re reading. If you take that advice to heart, it’s likely that your copy of The Novel Cure will end up dog-eared, criss-crossed with pen and highlighter marks and even with a few pages missing – evidence of where an entry you felt strongly enough about to tear out and pass on used to be.

This book is a celebration of literature and literacy, an antidote to apathy and potentially the foundation on which an enduring love affair with words is built. Invest in it; indulge in it; get intimate with it.