Daily Archives: December 25, 2013

The Examined Life: how we lose and find ourselves by Stephen Grosz (Chatto and Windus)

The Examined Life by Stephen GroszPsychoanalytic writing is not usually for the likes of us, the common reader. The tradition of read papers at conferences even less so. The jargon is often hard to penetrate (no Freudian reference here), but this book was one of my favourites this year. There are thirty or so chapters, case studies drawn from the author’s private and NHS careers. Some resolved problems, some were unresolved. Some of the chapters start with the patient but are perhaps more about the writer. There is no blank canvas here, Grosz is ever-present, not least as he writes about psychoanalysis as a skilled short story writer, but his stories are based on reality, or at least the patient’s perception of reality. This man can write.
Grosz is aware of the basic difficulties for the patient – a friend of his, on his first visit to another analyst’s couch does not know whether it is best to take off his shoes or keep them on. Does either choice convey any meaning? Most of the stories, of course, have deeper problems, rooted in loneliness, bereavement, preparing oneself for death, inappropriate love, the loss of self, abuse. In some cases the patient is a child, and one not-quite-patient is a chance encounter on a long flight who opened up to Grosz.
Most, if not all, of the stories are interesting in themselves – making this the kind of book you want a friend to read (or a book group) then discuss with you.
It also raised the question, if Grosz can write plainly and interestingly about psychoanalysis, could others not try too?
The Examined Life is out in a paperback edition in January 2014.

Ross Bradshaw

Do Not Pass Go: crime stories by Joel Lane (Nine Arches) and Crime (NWS)

Do Not Pass Go by Joel LaneI read this collection of short fiction by Joel Lane the day after his funeral. I knew Joel slightly and he was a good friend of others I know in Birmingham. His sudden death at fifty was a shock. Joel was starting to make a reputation as a writer of dark fantasy, moving on from his previous work as a poet and a crime writer. His poetry and crime has been published by several good small publishers, this collection coming from the West Midlands’ Nine Arches. Save for the rather utilitarian cover, Do Not Pass Go is a nice pamphlet-with-endpaper production, part of Nine Arches Hotwire series of pamphlet fiction – a series that deserves to succeed.
This collection of five stories is set in the seedy underworld of Birmingham; a place of run-down pubs where one-night-stand pick-ups are best avoided, where blues clubs can give you the blues big time, where builders’ yard tarmac is used other than for road surfacing, where the Gents is awash with drug-dealers and little mercy is given on jobs that could have come from the annals of Murder Inc. And it is always raining. Joel presents the literary equivalent of a what you fear might happen on a late night wait for a long-delayed train on one of the more obscure and badly-lit platforms of Birmingham New Street station.

NWS CrimeNottingham Writers Studio has produced its first sampler – Crime – featuring short fiction by several of its members. The stand-out story is by Alison Moore of Lighthouse fame, much less noir than her usual fare, but a rather tender story which leaves you wanting to know more. It opens in the wake of a minor burglary. As so often with Alison’s stories, her attention to domestic detail creates the atmosphere.

Both collections cost a fiver each.

Ross Bradshaw