The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee

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The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth
Reviewed by Anna Hollingsworth
Summary: The Good Story is an exchange between two captivating minds, that of a writer and that of a psychotherapist. Addressing questions such as 'What is truth?' 'How is group consciousness different from that of an individual', and 'What should the aims of psychotherapy be?'. J M Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz treat the reader to a thought-provoking exploration of what it means to construct stories of identity in fiction and psychotherapy alike.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2016
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099598220

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We live by stories. Novelists weave tales that may or may not reflect reality, and that we accept as their job: to create fictions with intriguing character plots that draw in, surprise and touch the reader is at the core of their job description. But story telling goes beyond profession: everyone, writer or not, sometimes more consciously, sometimes less, creates their own history, selects memories that they retain, repress others, and constantly weave together a story of who we are, a tale of identity.

This omnipresence of stories in the human experience serves as the starting point for The Good Story, a dialogue between J M Coetzee, writer with longstanding interest in moral psychology, and Arabella Kurtz, psychotherapist with training in literary studies. Coetzee poses the questions, spanning philosophical and metatheoretical thought experiments and drawing on characters in literature as well as his own life experiences. What is truth? Why not be a Don Quijote fighting windmills and believe in an objectively untrue story of yourself if that is what makes you happy? Can we forgive our ancestors who engaged in colonialism, slavery, and other acts considered by gross human rights violations by modern standards for acting in the ways they did because their consciousness as a group was drawn in by the Zeitgeist? Why does a South-African gang of boys act the way they do? To these heights of thinking, Kurtz replies with lucid answers. Her background as a practicing psychotherapist brings Coetzee's often philosophical arguments closer to the concreteness of a psychotherapist's office and hard facts of therapy.

The exchange between the two minds is a pure delight to read. The two experts in their fields throw challenges at each other, tackle each other's statements, and question unqualified assumptions further. The opponents, as it were, take turns at a leisurely pace, allowing the turns in the dialogue to also read as longer, stand-alone pieces of self-reflection, at times even coming close to free association. The pieces from Kurtz and Coetzee balance each other out beautifully, juxtaposing examples from fiction and real life in a way that has obviously challenged the authors to re-evaluate their own thoughts and does the same to the reader as well.

The book, however, is not one for the wholly uninitiated in the basics of psychology and psychotherapy. For anyone unaware of the theoretical field, the book presents the risk of offering the discussions as representative of the whole of psychology, when, in fact, it mainly – and heavily at that – draws on the much contested psychoanalytic tradition of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. An interesting question is how these questions would be answered in, say, cognitive behavioural therapy? The omission of this, however, is no fault of The Good Story but rather a topic for a different book and testament to how it will keep the reader thinking.

The Good Story is exactly what it says it is in its title and more: the reader is treated to an intense match of mental acrobatics, performed in dialogue between two great minds.

You could shelve this book next to Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D Yalom. If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Love and Lies: And Why You Can't Have One Without the Other by Clancy Martin. You might also appreciate Nelson, Hitler and Diana by Richard D Ryder.

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Buy The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee at Amazon.com.

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