the SURGERY is now
OPEN
Tweet us or submit your entry in the right hand side email box

UNDER SIEGE FROM WOMEN FRIENDS

Under siege from women friends who are saying vicious things to me. "Your husband is having an affair"..."your son is suicidal"...I don't know how to deal with such awfulness and I don't know why women say cruel things. I don't know if it is my agegroup50s 60s or if I am overly sensitive to what they say....I would love the right book for relief. 
Yours
Under Siege
Dear Under Siege,
It sounds to us like you need some new friends! Or at least, some perspective on dealing with them. Our favourite books about female friendship are The Group by Mary McCarthy, and The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. The former portrays the fortunes of a group of young undergraduates in the 1930's, taking them through contraception, sex, love, marriage, affairs and breastfeeding...and showing their friendships throughout. McCarthy's robust and incisive prose will furnish you with some witty reposts, whether they remain internal or whether you unleash them to the world. The latter novel is set over three generations, looking back from the perspective of age on girlhood, motherhood and middle age. The friendships described in this book are equally complicated in their evolution, but the book is overrall a lighter read. Reading both of these in succession will, we hope, remind you of the good sides of your female friends, and will encourage you to confront the issues that your friends are laying at your door - it could be that jeapordising your friendships is essential to finding peace of mind.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

TWENTY ONE BOOKS FOR 21 YEAR OLD SON

Dear Ella and Suse
I would like to give my son 21 books for his 21st birthday. He isn't a reader but I am and I feel he should have various texts on his bookshelf to lead him forward as he graduates and starts the next phase of his life.Your thoughts would be appreciated!
Yours,
Thinking of a LIbrary
Dear thoughtful mother,
You should surely be coming to the event at Heals this Thursday about how to build a library in a modern home, for advice for your son! It is wonderful that you are thinking about this for him, and a brilliant idea to give him 21 books. In fact it would be wonderful to buy him books from the Everyman Library, as they are such beautiful editions. One excellent option, of course, would be to send your son for a bibliotherapy session with us, so that we could give him a tailor-made list of books to suit him, and to discuss ways for him to read if he is not a huge reader. You could also give him a copy of The Novel Cure, to whet his appetitie...but meanwhile, as a starter for a library for the young man,

on our list, we would definitely put

The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov
Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
L'Etranger by Albert Camus
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
First Love by Ivan Turgenev
Siddhartha by Thomas Mann
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Rabbit Angstrom Tetralogy by John Updike
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
A House for Mister Biswas by V S Naipaul
1984 by George Orwell
The Handmaid's Tale by Margeret Atwood
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Leopard by Guiseppi de Lampedusa

Of course there are many more we would love to add, and not knowing your son, we can't be attuned to his personality and reading tastes - but the above are all essential reading in our view!
All the best, and we would love it if you let us know which books you give him in the end - do send us the list if you would be happy to share it with us!
Ella and Suse
We prescribe -

BORED IN ALABAMA

Dear Susan and Ella:

I am a recent grad school graduate (I just finished my Masters in Library and Information Studies!). But lately I have just been feeling…. “stuck” and bored, like my life is just not going anywhere. Job hunting
has NOT been going my way (and I’m starting to lose hope of getting a job), I had to move back in with my parents, and have pretty much lost interest in everything I usually do. I usually love to read and listen to audiobooks, but lately I find myself reading or listening only to a couple of chapters before losing interest and trying to move on to something else. What’s worse, I have developed an unhealthy Netflix addiction.

I just feel like the world is passing me by and wish my life was more
“interesting” and “adventureful”.

What do you recommend?

Thank you so much!

N, bored in Alabama
Avoid that Netflix addiction! We ourselves have had the Bored in Alabama feeling, and had to cure ourselves with a healthy dose of fiction before we found ourselves hooked on the 692 episodes of The Prisoner TV series. Once we reached number 72, we knew it was time to stop. But we could only be saved by something short, gripping and intense, from the world of fiction. We suggest a bit of a kick up the backside to start with, in the form of True Grit by Charles Portis. This bracing piece of fiction, perfectly formed as a novel, will remind you of the power of determination and self-belief, hopefully also encoursaging you to get out of the house and enjoy your surroundings ( or to go further afield if your immediate surroundings are not enticing!) - as True Grit is fundamentally an outdoor book. Next, administer the medicine of Tom Robbins, who in our experience can cajole the most lackadaisical of readers back into the reading habit. If you haven't read Jitterbug Perfume, dive into that for a rollercoaster ride down the rails of Robbins generous, energetic, invigorating mind. If you've encountered the great Robbins before, Still Life With Woodpecker will resonate with your depressed turn of mind, then we hope, get you out of it. Next, fall into the seductive tones of Cathy Tyson reading The Muse by Jessie Burton. This complex novel explores the relationship between art and creativity, self-expression, fame and femininity. Tyson's Trinidadian accent will invigorate you, and the story will project you back into a world of hope and self-motivation.
With all good wishes,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - True Grit by Charles Portis
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
The Muse by Jessie Burton

AVID READER, LACKING BOOK

Hello doctors,
My father is happily married, but he's looking around- looking around for a BOOK! He's an avid reader, and has always read the classics, but feels like he's read "everything worth reading". Is there something you can suggest to my well-read father who is in his mid-sixties?
Thank you,
Renee reader
Dear Renee Reader,
Thanks very much for your question - this is an interesting one for the older well-read man! If your father feels that he has read 'everything worth reading', he may be resistant to modern books. Of course, he is missing out on a lot of brilliant reading if so. One author he may not have discovered is Gerard Woodward. His fabulous trilogy August, I'll go to Bed at Noon, and A Curious Earth, chronicles the life of a family over four decades. A Curious Earth is the book closest to your father's own stage in life, in which the central character, Aldous, is facing his latter years without his wife and one of his sons. But it would be ideal for your father to start with the first book, when Aldous is in his late thirties. These books are beautifully written, full of dark humour, and highly insightful. 
He may also have missed a few great classics that bypass some readers, such as Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - a searing indictment of colonialisation and the activities of missionaries in Africa - and a perfect work of art to boot. This would also be a great moment to read Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, if he has not already done so - a wonderful, intense and evocative description of the strains between the generations, the push and pull between nihilism and idealism, the eternal struggle between the old and the new, which resonates today just as much as it did in 1862.
Let us know how he gets on!
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Gerard Woodward's August Trilogy
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

PREGNANT AND ALONE

Dear Ella and Suse,

First of all: thank you for your wonderful services. I believe you should replace, or at least figure upon, every website available for symptom checking and self-diagnosis.

I am a young woman who is 33 weeks pregnant. I am also alone, since I broke up with the baby's father soon after we found out I was pregnant. We are still friends, and I am in no way heartbroken, or in doubt about my choice. I am however a little worried and certainly very humbled by the thought of being a single-mom/solo-mom/parent alone, whatever you like to call it. I am overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilty that comes with being a parent. And overwhelmed by the thought of a tiny person, my new family, residing inside of me, only to come out in a little over a month, and to live with me, and to have me as a caregiver. And as an idol. And a friend. And as "the adult" in his life. And as the person who shall introduce him to this world, and show him how to find his way in it.

Please, do you have any books in mind with good advice or perhaps an
inspiring protagonist for me?
Yours,
Solo
Dear Solo,
Thanks for your positive thoughts about our services, and for reaching out yourself at a moment of great excitement and trepidation in your life! We can well understand the feelings you must be having as a lone parent to be, and it is great that you are thinking about iterary routes to calming your worries. We do have some good ideas for reading, for inspiration, reassurance and courage. Firstly, we would like to recommend the brilliant "The Last Samurai" by Helen de Witt. This excellent novel describes a young woman having a baby,very much like yourself, without a man around, but happily alone. She brings up her son with great joy and intelligence, and he soon reveals his amazing intellect and capacity for learning. He learns Greek by age 5, then moves onto Hebrew and Arabic very rapidly, masters the fundamental laws of maths before he is 6, and is a constant source of fun to his mother Sybilla. The novel explores their relationship and his search for a father figure, with great sympathy and wisdom. We hope you will recognise yourself in Sybilla.
For inspiration about ways of mothering brilliantly, revisit or read for the first time Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. Benign neglect could be a way of describing Durrell's childhood, as he grew up in Corfu and ran wild at a time that the island was idyllically remote and unspoilt by even the thought of a tourist. This book will encourage you and help you to feel the sheer delight of a child discovering the world around him, and in this book too there is no father figure.
If you feel a need for some fluff, indulge yourself with The Friday night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. Single mother Georgia is a great role model for a good mother looking after her daughter Dakota, a pre-teen, who goes through all the usual challenges that kids do, living in New York. This is not great literature, but indulgent, a hot chocolate of a comfort read - but full of great characters and quite a lot of good advice.
Finally, look to Atticus Finch - read To Kill a Mockingbird, to remind yourself of the perfect single parent. Don't spoil the image by reading Go Set a Watchman.
Good luck!
All the best,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Last Samurai by Helen de Witt
My family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

INABILITY TO SIT STILL AND ANXIETY

Dear Ellla and Suse,

I have two forms of anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Anxiety disorder. My anxiety stems from lots of things, from assignments to full blown existential crises and wondering why on earth am I here. Often times I find it really hard to literally, chill out and sit still long enough to do anything relaxing. Since being in college in 2011, I haven't really had the time to leisurely read anything aside from BuzzFeed. And when I do have the time to read, my attention span is short and I find myself 5 pages deep in
Game of Thrones, and don't remember a single word I read, due to my mind's restlessness/constant running thoughts. Is there anything you recommend as a literary cure for someone like me?

Thank you so much in advance!

Sincerely yours,
Miss Tweak
Dear Miss Tweak,
We have a few suggestions for you. Most crucially, disconnect yourself from the internet, and give yourself 2 hours to read, either during a weekend or a day off if you have such a thing. Create a reading nook in your home where you can sit comfortably for this period, with no interruptions from wifi or phone, if possible curtained off from other people. Then immerse yourself in a great novel. One that is almost guaranteed to hook the most inveterate twitcher in, is True Grit by Charles Portis. It's instantly gripping, beautifully expressed, and short enough to read in one sitting. The book will also still your anxiety to some extent, as the heroine is so very focused and lacking in any kind of anxiousness, that her attitude will rub off on you. Alternatively, try one of the lovely Pereine Press books, which are expressly desligned to be read in the same period that it would take to watch a film.Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean is a great example of these. 
Another way of stilling your restless mind, would be to listen to an audio book while doing something with your hands like knitting, or doing the dishes, or gardening. Having two activities on the way can be an oddly satisfying way of quelling your flighty, fluttery mind. A gripping, tightly written novel would be an ideal first listen. Try The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan. If you enjoy this, your road to recovery may be short.
With calming thoughts,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - True Grit by Charles Portis
Pereine Press Books 
The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan

FOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)

Dear Ella and Suse,

Perhaps you have both heard of the modern day ailment known as FOMO - fear of missing out? Sometimes considered the other side of the coin of YOLO - you only live once.

I often suffer from FOMO. Maybe it's because I have lived in quite a few places and so miss these other worlds and the people there. I wonder what my friends from past lives might be up to. It also afflicts me in my immediate environment. What might I miss if I stay in this evening?

So, I'm wondering - do you have any suggestions of literary cures for FOMO?

Sincerely,

Miss FOMO
Dear Miss FOMO,

We were so happy to get your message. We had indeed heard about it – and indeed had heard that many people suffered from it – but as yet no-one had come to us to ask for a cure, and we were beginning to have the feeling that the cures were being sought elsewhere, and that we ourselves we missing out on the experience of being a part of that interaction, and... and... well! Thank goodness you came to us when you did, because we were about to take ourselves off to bed with a chronic case of FOMO each.

Needless to say, our close shave with FOMO gave us time to work out a cure and we are happy to report we are now free of it.

We discovered that FOMO can be cured in one of two ways. The first is to BECOME where it's at – the life and soul of the party, the place where everyone else wants to be; thus passing on FOMO to all your friends and acquaintances wherever they may be in the world, while being rid of it yourself. If you want to choose this somewhat cruel but safe option, read Ragime by EL Doctorow which is all about accepting new inventions, new ideas, new attitudes, new everything – being a Yes person to all that comes along. You will become the epicentre of the energy, and everyone will spin in your orbit. 

If this sounds too exhausting, or you don't want to inflict FOMO on those you love, you need to choose the second option. This is to opt out completely and discover the joy at the heart of an existence which relies on very little. For this, read I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelssohn, which tells the imagined story of what might have happened to the famous aviatrice if she had not been killed while attempting to circumnavigate the world another time, but survived with her navigator on a desert island. Driven almost crazy by loneliness and frustration, the two castaways eventually discover the pleasure of a life lived out of the spotlight. Their sensual, heady, primtive selves start to emerge and discover that life is very much more satisfying than it ever was before. That, in short, there is nothing TO miss out on in life, except being oneself.  

The life they find for themselves is described with such appeal that it almost gives us FOMO just to think about it... 

Ella & Suse
We prescribe - Ragime by EL Doctorow
I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn 

A SLUG WITH VISIONS OF HUMANITY

Dear Ella and Suse,

I've had an issue swelling for the last nine years or so, and it seems to be coming to a climax. I used to live amid a good deal of strife and was resilient, inspired, productive, mature, intelligent, funny, and interesting. The last few years, however, things have been calm and good: I have love, a few good friends, enough money, space--but I can't seem to find the will to do anything I enjoy. I'm a skilled artist (and writer, I've been told), but I can't bring myself to draw or write. I'm in love with and attracted to my wonderful long-time boyfriend and never feel like having sex. I don't read anymore. I rarely leave the house except to go to work. I  feel vulnerable, self-conscious, cranky, ugly, and boring. I don't call my friends because I don't want to subject them to me. I usually have a
headache. I spend most of my time looking at art, watching films (good ones, at least), and feeling guilty. To be fair, I do still have moments of fun and glory, and I'm never hopeless (I always think tomorrow will be different), but I inevitably sink back into the muck. I'm a 30-year-old woman. Jitterbug Perfume is my favorite book. Any suggestions?

Thank you!

A Slug with Visions of Humanity
Dear Slug,
We feel you need something of a catalyst, a rocket under your deckchair, a book to blast you into action and energy. There are two approaches to this - the shocking-you-into-embracing-your-talents approach, and the inspiring-you-to-re-invigorate-yourself approach. For shock, we give you Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior. This book will horrify you with its depiction of two young people sliding ever more into the mire, because they try to hold on to their dreams of painting and creating a happy life for themselves with a cafe to run, decorated with their own art, but go about achieving them in the wrong way - by selling heroine. This novel is so depressing that you will literally kick yourself into grabbing your paintbrush or pen, and making it happen, now. As an aside to this, I would also add that if you haven't discovered Keri Hulme yet, do so now - her interractive art books are really inspiring, especially if you have had a hiatus of non-creativity). Requiem is a painful, but purgative read. Then take the secondary approach to your cure, which is the inspirational one. We love it that Jitterbug Perfume is your favourite book, and that is one that we would reccommend to you- take a leaf out of Priscilla's life, and follow your passion! However, as you have already discovered Robbins, we urge you instead to read Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. This is a book of poems, a novel of an unusual format, that will remind you to live your life to the max. If Archy the Cockroach can head-butt the keys of a type-writer in order to get his thoughts out, you too must crash through the pain barrier to get yourself out there again. Shed that cockrach carapace, and open your windows again - your friends have been missing you!
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior
Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis

RESTLESS AND FLAT

Dear Ella & Sure,

Almost at the end of my studies, I went last year on a program to study abroad during a year. I spent my time through parties, meeting people from all over the world and travelling abroad, but most of it I met a girl I was deeply in love with. Our relationship finally ended because we both had to go back in our country.

Back home for a year now, it took me a really long time to heal and get over the depressing feeling of both missing the girl I loved and being back to normal life.

I know I'll have the opportunity to travel again, but I can't get over the feeling of sadness I got since I'm back.

I'm not sure if it's because I'll soon leave student life to work (as a professor) or because  I miss the life I had abroad.

Maybe you'll have something for me to read ?

Thanks for listening.
Restless and Flat

(btw, english isn't my native language, I'm sorry if I made some mistakes)
Dear Restless and Flat,
The sense of returning from adventure to normal life can indeed be one of dull grey normality, and if you have had a romantic liaison that has had a forced ending, it will be all the more painful. For this ailment, take an instant dose of Jamrach’s Menagerie, preferably in one gulp. (Actually if you commute to work, it will keep you entranced for days and have you eager to get back on the bus to carry on the story…). This novel is in a way a cure for Wanderlust, but it is also a great temporary substitute for travel, as the young hero, Jaffy, spends several months at sea having the kind of adventures we all dream of, encountering storms, unknown creatures, near death and love. It’s a story of high drama, but written with wisdom and sensitivity that helps to question our urge for travel, and our feelings on return - you can mull with Jaffy over his own transformative experiences, and ponder your next move in his company. We hope that you will feel more inspired about your life as a professor, which perhaps you will be able to combine with travel in a safer fashion than Jaffy manages to…
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

MAD SCIENTIST

Dear Ella and Suse,

I am a postgraduate student nearing the end of my PhD (or rather, near the end of having any money to do it, but without an end in sight). In addition to not having an income and having a very daunting body of scientific work to write I am terrified about my future. Science is notorious for having very few opportunities to overwork as an underpaid lab rat, but the pressure to work in a field that I have so heavily invested my time and money seems to come from so many angles. Some people think that I must have no time to read, and that I must devote all of my waking hours to this project, but the problem is that the more time I devote to this, the more waking hours I actually have and I fear the insomnia and stress is driving me insane. The other day I discovered that I had left the oven on for two days after cooking a meal. Is there something I can read to calm my mind about my future and help me focus on finishing this beast in my present?
Sincerely,
Mad scientist
Dear Mad Scientist,
Though we fully sympathise with your ailment, having been there ourselves in some respects, we urge you to remember that this time will pass - it is a short lived agony. Your best companion and friend is The Man who Planted Trees. This short, beautiful fable, that comes with calming woodcuts, will send a message of optimism and gentle reassurance. Take a deep breath, lie back and go on a journey with the man who decides to repopulate his land with the forests that have disappeared, acorn by acorn. By the time you reach the end of the tale, your own green shoots of optimism will be peeking out from under your workload.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Man who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

TWEETS
@THENOVELCURE

A - Z
LIST
OF QUESTIONS

A SLUG WITH VISIONS OF HUMANITYABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP ENDED, LEAVING SCARSADULT ACNEAFRAID OF FAILUREALCOHOLIC DAUGHTERALONE ON A WIDE, WIDE SEAAlways wanted to be a writerANOREXICANXIOUS ABOUT SINGLE FRIENDAT A FORK IN THE ROADAVID READER, LACKING BOOKBEREFT OF A CATBORED IN ALABAMABOTHERED AND BEWILDEREDBRAIN SHRINKING MOMMABROKENBROKEN HEARTBROKEN HEARTED - TORN BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE BEST FRIENDSBROKEN UP WITH GIRLFRIEND; FEELING BURNT OUTCAN’T MOVE ONCANDIDA REVOLTAIRECan’t afford to go on holidayCAST ASIDECHEATEDCHRONIC PAINCOLD HANDS AND FEETCONCERNED ABOUT DAUGHTERCONFLICTED PARTNERSCRAVING FOOD CULTURECYNICAL STEPSONDAILY ABUSEDARK NIGHT OF THE SOULDEPRESSED AND UNABLE TO READDEPRESSED DURING CHRISTMAS, AND LONELY NOWDESPERATELY WANTON GIRLDIRECTIONLESSEASILY BORED WITH NOVELSEMOTIONALLY SABOTAGED BY MY MOTHEREMOTIONS IN EXTREMEEVER THE FRIEND AND NOT THE PARTNEREXTREME ANGER AND FRUSTRATIONFADING AWAYFALLEN OUT WITH MY FRIENDSFALLING IN LOVE WAY TOO FASTFAZED AND CONFLICTEDFEAR OF CONFRONTATIONFEAR OF GETTING OLDFERTILITY PROBLEMSFOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)FORGING A BRIGHT NEW FUTUREFRIEND WHO HAS LOST A CHILD LATE IN PREGNANCYFRIENDS DAUGHTER LOST TO SUICIDEFrightened of lifeGAPING HOLEGetting over a break-upGIRL OF UNCERTAINTY, BOUND BY RULESGIRL WHO DOESN’T FIT INGRIPPED BY LOSSGUILTY FRIENDHOPELESSNESSHOUSE AND LIBRARY DESTROYED BY FIREI love music more than booksI no longer commute – and therefore I no longer readI PEEK AT THE END OF NOVELS BECAUSE I WORRY THE CHARACTER MIGHT NOT MAKE ITI wish I were famousIN MOURNING OVER LITERARY DEATHSINABILITY TO SIT STILL AND ANXIETYINCONSISTENT AND NON-STUDIOUS- BUT AMBITIOUS NONETHELESSINDECISIVEINSECUREINTERESTED IN EVERYTHING BUT ACHIEVING NOTHINGINVISIBLE WOMANJILTED AND UNSUREJOB IN LIBRARY UNDER THREATKICKED IN THE HEADLEADENLIVING ON THE MARGINSLONE RANGERLONELY AND DEJECTEDLONELY IN LOVELONELY IN MONOTONOUS JOB, LOSING SANITYLOOKING FOR A SENSE OF PURPOSELOOKING FORWARDSLOSS OF A SISTERLOSTLOW WATTAGELOW-ENERGY PESSIMISMMAD SCIENTISTMARRIED TO A MAN, ATTRACTED TO WOMENMISSED THE BOATMISSING MY MOTHER-IN-LAWMUM GOING BACK TO WORKNEED TO LET GONEW CITY, NEW LIFE -BOOKS FOR 12 YEAR OLD BOY?NEW FRIENDSHIP WITH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORNIGHTMARISH COLLEAGUENOMADIC FLANEURPOST NATAL DEPRESSIONPREGNANT AND ALONEPREMATURE BABY