Non-fiction The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz | Book Review Roundup | The Omnivore

Published on January 16th, 2013


The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

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Blurb: This book is about learning to live. In simple stories of encounter between a psychoanalyst and his patients, The Examined Life reveals how the art of insight can illuminate the most complicated, confounding and human of experiences. These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies that we tell; the changes we bear, and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but how we might find ourselves too. (Vintage 2013)

Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday 

“… crystal-clear and completely magical. It is also very accessible. Grosz begins his book, Max Bygraves-style, with the words, ‘I want to tell you a story’, and to some extent it is a jaunty medley of other people’s woes, a sort of SingaLonga- Trauma. But it is also much, much more than that. True, he narrates his case histories with a storyteller’s zest, and they are blessedly free of obscure psycho-jargon. But he preserves their essential mystery by looking at them from an oblique angle, and keeping them open-ended.”

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Melissa Katsoulis, The Times 

“The suspense in each perfectly plotted chapter is so expert that I had to double-check that The Examined Lifewas not a work of fiction … This is an elegant, jargon-free expedition into the secret business of our minds written with such wisdom and kindness that even those who think psychoanalysis is bunk might find that lying on a couch being listened to is worthwhile.”

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Robert Collins, The Sunday Times 

“Grosz’s vignettes are so brilliantly put together that they read like pieces of bare, illuminating fiction … It is [the] combination of tenacious detective work, remarkable compassion and sheer, unending curiosity for the oddities of the human heart that makes these stories utterly captivating.”

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Jane Clinton, Daily Express 

“In an intelligent, human and deeply moving book, Grosz guides us through their lives, and preoccupations. The mundane becomes extraordinary, the minutiae the focus. Grosz is listening for the unspoken and the gaps in between. His book celebrates change and the triumphs and tragedies of humanity.”

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Alexander Linklater, The Observer 

“… in turning people’s lives into stories with (at least partial) resolutions, Grosz persuades us to see how the psychoanalytic encounter can help people change – a little – or perhaps accept the ways in which they cannot change. This hardly amounts to a rallying cry, but it is powerful nonetheless. He does not act as advocate for psychoanalysis. He makes his larger case by showing, not telling.”

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Michael Holroyd, The Spectator 

“For British readers there is the occasional off-putting Americanism such as ‘different than’, or the assumption that everyone has a ‘mom’. But Grosz is an able writer, engaging, frank and with many penetrating insights. His short, succinct chapters have both the tension and the satisfaction of miniature detective or mystery stories … At the end of his acknowledgments Grosz writes that his ‘greatest debt, finally, is to those who cannot be thanked by name — the patients whose lives have shaped this book’. These are his last words and they leave an unwritten and unanswered question over what is nevertheless a stimulating book.”

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Susanna Rustin, The Guardian 

“He gives a real (and rare) sense of the texture of analysis, of the weeks and months filled only with frustration, of the missed sessions, tedious repetitions and fruitless guessing as to what is going on. And he makes a point of contrasting all this effort with pop psychology platitudes such as the five stages of grief.”

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Jane Shilling, The New Statesman 

“As literature, Grosz’s book is intensely readable but lacks the depth of humanity that makes the very best memoir and fiction writing, from Montaigne to Melville, so resonant. As an account of psychoanalytic treatment, it largely ignores the problematic question of the therapist’s role as — on some level — the star of his or her encounter with a patient … Yet as a reminder of the strangeness of human existence, the myriad ways we find of making ourselves unhappy and the perplexing resourcefulness of the unconscious mind, Grosz’s book is a worthwhile addition to the literature of the examined life.”

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