What can Alice in Wonderland teach us about childhood? Could reading Conversations with Friends guide us through first love? Does Esther Greenwood’s glittering success and subsequent collapse in The Bell Jar help us understand ambition? And, finally, what can we learn about death from Virginia Woolf?
Literature matters. Not only does it provide escapism and entertainment, but it also holds a mirror up to our lives to show us aspects of ourselves we may not have seen or understood. From jealousy to grief, fierce love to deep hatred, our inner lives become both stranger and more familiar when we explore them through fiction.
Josh Cohen, a psychoanalyst and Professor of Modern Literary Theory, delves deep into the inner lives of the most memorable and vivid characters in literature. His analysis of figures such as Jay Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway offers insights into the greatest questions about the human experience, ones that we can all learn from. He walks us through the different stages of existence, from childhood to old age, showing that literature is much more than a refuge from the banality and rigour of everyday life – through the experiences of its characters, it can show us ways to be wiser, more open and more self-aware.
Josh Cohen's fascination with the struggle of being human is filled with curiosity and compassion. The rabbit holes he takes us down are thick with enlightening tales and thoughtful solutions for the battles in our minds.
Deftly linking literature and clinical stories Josh Cohen invites us into the ways we humans deal with inner conflicts, voids, losses, insecurities and abandonments. And he invites us to see how conflict - with its steps forward, to the side and back are part of the struggle to live a life as fully and as engaged as we can.
Wonderful... a surprising and variously perceptive book about the forms of knowledge and solace that are available to us as long as we cultivate a sense of curiosity about ourselves, and other people.
I loved it so much I rationed myself to a few pages a night to make it last through the long evenings of lockdown. It's compassionate, wise and thought-provoking- like having a gifted and sympathetic psychoanalyst at your side. By engaging with the problems of fictional characters, it returns us both to books we've loved and books we need to read. Above all, it raises important questions about human existence and challenges us all to lead richer, more examined lives.
The vertiginous feeling I had when reading this book was because I found myself, with each new chapter, falling more and more into something familiar but strange: my own life.
Josh Cohen never claims to know better than the rest of us how to live or what to do, yet his extraordinary capacity to shine a light on the barely-noticed details of our existences has an uncanny effect. Unlike those self-help books that promise to transform us, here is a book that, by reflecting our own lives back to us in ways we've not been able to imagine them before, probably does.