The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz

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The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz

Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A pyschoanalyst shares the stories of everyday life, and the value of what he has learned from working with patients.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 225 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099549031

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I usually review fiction. For that reason alone, I knew that reviewing this particular book would be a challenge. I was attracted to it for many reasons; I thought it would give me a window into many situations of which I know little or nothing.

Grosz has certainly packed in the situations here. Although the identifying details have been changed, he writes with extraordinary clarity and put me in mind of a great fiction writer bringing characters to life with just a few words. I had an uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism throughout the book, but that may form part of the appeal for some readers.

The book has been well structured, with each chapter examining the consequences of particular states of mind or types of action; for example loving, changing, telling lies. The stories form a narrative that must have been quite hard to put together in a coherent whole but this has been done seamlessly. In a way, this non-fiction work is an unputdownable page-turner; but I had to keep putting it down because it is so thought provoking.

This brings me to the hard part; I had to keep putting it down partly because I needed to digest what I had read, and partly because I had the odd flash of inspiration about some of the more unusual behaviour I’ve come across in my life. This is the type of book that will, for good or ill, provide explanations for all kinds of people you have met and I found myself wondering about my own behaviour and how it comes across to others.

That in itself is a critical point though; something I have always wondered about therapy is - how many people seek it out because they have a perception that they are not normal and they don’t fit in with society’s rigid views of what people should be like? There are a couple of patients in this book who seem to fit that, and it made me wonder how much pyschoanalysts actually contribute to this. For example, someone who views himself as a commitphobe when really all he needs is to be alone – Grosz admits his initial view was that the patient had not found the right person. Watching Grosz’s views evolve is part of the joy of reading this; he shows us just how much he has learned from his patients.

Grosz is delightfully hands off in the telling of what feels like a cleverly woven tale. The stories are indeed beautifully written, compiled and edited for maximum effect. But much as they feel like a story, they are of course, real life; and ironically, this foray into non-fiction reminded me how much I need fiction. There are no clear endings in the stories told by Grosz, and of course, there can’t be. But it is not closure I seek from fiction, nor tidy resolutions along the way, because a well-written fictional story accounts for the humanity of characters. There is a thread of sadness throughout this book; a feeling that the human condition is fundamentally flawed. And perhaps that’s why millions of us escape into fiction on a daily basis. No matter how attached we become to those characters, at the end of it we can reassure ourselves it's not real.

I doubt it was the intention of the writer to create the feeling of sadness I experienced; his neutral but stylish narration is a presentation of facts with make of this what you will being the overriding sentiment. But I found quite a sad book to read, so that is my only caveat for a book that I do highly recommend.

If this book appeals then you might enjoy The Nolympics: One Man's Struggle Against Sporting Hysteria by Nicholas Lezard.

Buy The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz at Amazon.com.


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