The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin


17707738A novel is a story transmitted from the novelist to the reader. It offers distraction, entertainment, and an opportunity to unwind or focus. But it can also be something more powerful—a way to learn about how to live. Read at the right moment in your life, a novel can—quite literally—change it.

The Novel Cure is a reminder of that power. To create this apothecary, the authors have trawled two thousand years of literature for novels that effectively promote happiness, health, and sanity, written by brilliant minds who knew what it meant to be human and wrote their life lessons into their fiction. Structured like a reference book, readers simply look up their ailment, be it agoraphobia, boredom, or a midlife crisis, and are given a novel to read as the antidote. Whatever your condition, the prescription is simple: a novel (or two), to be read at regular intervals and in nice long chunks until you finish. Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will offer solace, showing that you’re not the first to experience these emotions.


The idea of a book curing your ills feels far fetched, I know. Don’t think of novels as a magic elixir or cure all but as a way to examine a problem from a different point of view. Conquer Flying, Fear of by reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight – see how much worse it can be? That turbulence was nothing! Feeling lonely? The gang at 28 Barbary Lane in Tales of the City will take you in as one of their own.

This book can be read equally well straight through or as the mood strikes you. Even if you aren’t suffering from the particular ailment you will still find interesting recommendations to add to your TBR.

The selection of novels covers a wide swath of literary history, from classics to more contemporary works and everything inbetween. I was pleased to see that there were a decent number of books in translation that go beyond the usual Murakami and Russian greats. I especially liked the ten best lists, including the best books for each decade of your life (from teens through 100+), the best novels for when you have a cold, and the best audiobooks for road rage. Genres are hit and miss – fantasy and sci fi are lovingly covered while horror, thrillers, mystery and romance fall by the wayside. Le sigh.

The introductions to each book go me interested in titles but I became annoyed when Berthoud and Elderkin give away major plot points and spoilers. I get that they are eager to say why the book is such a good cure for xyz ailment, but I’d rather they said “trust us” more often. I found myself skimming when they talked about titles already on my TBR just to make sure nothing was ruined for me.

As the authors point out novels are not a substitute for sound medical advice. But when you’re coping with a problem, be it mental or physical (or metaphysical), sometimes a well-chosen book is just the thing you need.