Ella Berthoud is a bibliotherapist, writer and painter who has prescribed fiction novels that have helped thousands of people tackle life’s common setbacks. Ella has written several books, including the bestselling The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies with Susan Elderkin, and more recently Fiction Prescriptions.
After reading The Novel Cure and another of her books, 30-second literature, I reached out to Ella and asked her if she would consider prescribing some fiction for budding entrepreneurs and young innovators facing these scenarios and dilemmas: a broken spirit, failure to follow your dreams, procrastination. Happily, Ella agreed – and you can read her fiction prescriptions for each below:
This is one of the most common ailments that I encounter, and I have various cures. We are all prone to procrastination, and often it’s only a serious rocket under your backside that will spur you on to action. Read a book that will act like a rocket, in the form of The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. This is a book describing four members of an Irish family, all of whom are in crisis in various ways. Dickie, the father, has been running the car showroom that was passed on to him by his father, even though he would be far more suited to an artistic career. Dickie has various major issues that combine to make him perhaps the most complicated character in the book, whose possible doom rockets towards him over the 600 pages of this unpredictable novel. This maybe a long book but its certainly not slow to read, dancing as it does from character to character and opening up each member of the family’s mind to the reader in sometimes Joycean streams of consciousness. Imelda is Dickie’s beautiful and sensual wife, who was originally betrothed to Dickie’s brother Frank, who died tragically just before their wedding day. Imelda grew up in an abusive household, and is delighted to escape it into the comparative wealth and security of Dickie’s family, but her new husband’s own issues seem likely to bring her back towards squalor. Meanwhile, the children, PJ and Cassandra deal with their parents difficulties in very different ways, PJ escaping into video-games and building a fort in the woods with his father designed to keep them safe in an apocalypse, while Cassandra heads to Dublin to study, and discover her sexuality. Climate change percolates through the book bringing a sense of doom to all.
Murray is an expert at weaving hints of disaster through his pages, but still has us rooting for the family despite their various flaws. The revelations that each character puts off sharing with the others make procrastination seem like a bomb you should detonate immediately, before it’s too late – like it nearly is for all of these characters. And meanwhile not just them, but the whole planet puts off dealing with the causes of climate change, distracted by their phones, their pronouns and their cliques. Murray provides a rallying cry to us all to look up and see what is going on around us.
Reading The Bee Sting will provide the vital nip to shock you into activity. Stop putting things off , start taking action the minute you put down the book.
Failure to follow your dreams
Is it criminal to ignore your dreams? Picture yourself on your deathbed, realising that all those dreams -of building your own house, writing a novel, learning to fly a kite, travelling to Timbuktu, saving the world – never came to fruition. Take action now. Grab Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce without further ado. Margery Benson has been stultifying in her dead-end London job as a teacher in an all-girl’s school, feeling as if she has nothing to offer the world and that the world has nothing to offer her. But then she remembers her childhood dream of discovering a golden beetle that resides on the other side of the world on an island just beyond New Zealand. Suddently throwing caution – and her lacrosse stick – to the wind, she sets forth on the high seas to find the beetle, with the intention of bringing it back to the Natural history Museum. On her journey, she transfroms from dowdy spinster into multi-faceted, self-motivated scientist. It’s energising just to watch her and see what happens. Read this and you will feel compelled to make those dreams happen – or at least do your darndest to bring them to fruition. If you fancy a more masculine tale, The Perfect Golden Circle by Ben Myers is a brilliantly dream-fuelling read. It’s all about two men who create crop circles in the 1980s in the dead of night. The novel describes the unusual friendship between the two men; Calvert is scarred both physically and emotionally by his time in the miliray, and Redbone is prone to visions, both hallucinogenic and spiritual. They share a pure desire to create something beautiful, art for art’s sake, a vision of perfection that ‘each person carries inside themselves”. The novel is set during one summer, taking us on moonlit walks through enormous fields, rural idylls in which we meet a lost lord of the manor, a confused old lady looking for a dog who died over a decade ago, and teenagers up to no good. Like Ben Myers’ other novels, this is a book full of generosity, hope and an abundance of love for the countryside. But most of all it is a book that makes you want to follow your dreams.
This state can be the result of not following your dreams. You do everything you can, you keep on trying, but your dreams just don’t come true. Don’t give up! Read Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, which will help you to hang on to that essence of yourself that you might have felt you have lost. When your spirit is broken, you have no sense of self left, and what you need is a book that will speak to you on the deepest level and remind you of what you once were, what you believed you could be, what you were when you were born and full of hope, and the world believed in you and your infinite possibilities.
Demon Copperhead is a novel loosely formed by the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which is a Bildungsroman – a book that follows a person from birth to maturity. David Copperfield was loosely autobiographical, and was Dickens’ most popular book – the one he was most proud of. Barbara Kingsolver has transposed the young man from 18th century Dickens to a modern hillbilly community in Virginia. Damon Fields, later known as Demon, ‘got himself born’ against all the odds to a mother passed out among her pill bottles in a trailer, clearly offering little by way of wisdom or wealth to her young child. Demon raises himself, a wild boy with bright red hair that earns him his nickname, until he is taken into care with a variety of almost equally feckless foster parents. He is soon sucked into the world of opioids, and this provides the major plot of the book- how Demon becomes addicted himself, and how he survives in a brutal world by selling opioids to anyone interested- which seems to be most of the population. Demon hits rock bottom several times, but bounces back like the Dickensian hero he is. His voice is charming, charismatic, irresistibly full of youth and hope and despair. I would urge you to listen to this in audio form if you can, as the narration by Charlie Thurston is excellent. As the book is told in the first person and Demon’s voice is colloquial, the book works brilliantly on audio, though it is also fantastic to read if audio is not your preferred medium! By the time you’ve finished the novel, your spirit will be restored as you recognise your true worth, and see that you are still a human with infinite possibilities.