The Labyrinth of Spirits (2016) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

downloadWhen I wrote my review of “The Prisoner of Heaven“, I was uncertain whether I would continue reading the series. Both the second and third installment of the series had been quite disappointing. However, my need for resolution and my curiosity won and I proceeded to read the final installment in Zafon’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

I did not have high hopes of this book. Not because the story isn’t interesting – quite the contrary. I was hooked when I read “The Shadow of the Wind” and even though I wasn’t massively impressed with “The Angel’s Game, I felt the plot and the ideas in that book had a lot of (unexplored) potential, hampered by the use of hackneyed tropes.

The Guardian’s review of “The Labyrinth of Spirits” describes it as a “colossal achievement” and a “genre-crossing delight”.

I wasn’t quite so awestruck by the book, but nor was I as disappointed as I had been with ‘The Prisoner of Heaven“.

This final book introduces us to a few new characters and reacquaints us with many old ones. The central plotline of the mysteries and tragedies of the Sempere family, starting with Shadow of the Window and interweaving into The Angel’s Game & The Prisoner of Heaven, takes a back seat for much of this book.

A large portion of the book is devoted to a new character, Alicia Greisz, and her circumstances. Of course, inevitably, her story forms a part of the Sempere’s story, but much of our time is spent trawling the underworld (of Madrid) and discovering Alicia’s dependence on pain medication for a childhood injury. Through Alicia, Zafon appears to be attempting to rectify his Male Writer Syndrome. Alicia is a better written female character than her predecessors (Beatrice, Forgettable Lady, Penelope, etc). But ultimately, I was underwhelmed. 

The very obvious “plot twist” (***SPOILER HERE***) regarding Daniel’s paternity was already pretty clear at the end of The Prisoner of Heaven, and was of course made explicit in this book. 

I did enjoy Zafon’s flair for the gothic in the subplots – the imagery is disturbing, grotesque and strangely fascinating. I missed the supernatural elements which were more present in The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game

I look forward to reading the posthumously published City of Mist soon



Films to Watch Instead of ‘Superstar’

If you’re thinking of exploring Pakistani films, please do not start with ‘Superstar’ (2019).

Dear lord. Another Pakistani endeavour at film-making which fails disastrously. I know Pakistani cinema can do so much better, but for some reason those involved in the film-making process prefer mass producing crap to actually creating something worthwhile or intelligent. I knew ‘Superstar’ was going to be pathetic from the moment I saw the poster and this was cemented further by the trailer and then finally by the film itself. I mean I really have only myself to blame for actually forking out cash to watch this – readers, any films produced by HUM Films and Momina & Duraid Films are likely to be rehashed versions of Bin Roye … and all of us know that that thing is unworthy of even being called a “film”.

As a very wise friend of mine put it, “pretty faces + dumbass songs+ bollywood-inspired clothing do not a movie make.” (RZ, 2019)

Un film terrible, mes lecteurs! L’horreur (I don’t quite know why I’m putting in this pretentious French here).

So instead of dwelling on the absence of a plot of substance (A Plot of Substance & a Plot of No Importance! – Coming to the Big Screen Near You in September 2019), the inconsistent characterisations, the lack of character development, the random songs and the abrupt as hell ending, here are some films that are far better if you want to explore Pakistani films:

  • An Introduction to Pakistani Cinema
  1. 280fullKhuda Kay Liyay (For God): Long and heavy film, with a few rare light moments, about extremism and the impact of 9/11 on Pakistanis and Muslims. The film has 3 protagonists, two music-loving Pakistani brothers belonging to a well-off Muslim family, and their British-born (and raised) female cousin who comes to visit Pakistan for the first time. Each of their lives is impacted differently and drastically by extremism and its repercussions. An intelligent and well-made film. See the trailer here.
  2. 11219529_680456755425647_5544569832409889120_nMah-e-Mir (Mir’s Muse): Inspired by the life and work of the Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir, this film follows a present-day poet named Jamal as he struggles to make a success of his work whilst remaining true to his creativity, drawing parallels with the life of the eponymous poet.

This is very different to the typical fare at Pakistani cinemas, as the content is actually something other than a love story or a conflict between parents and their kids. This film aims to explore the idea of creativity and freedom and whether we can ever be truly creative if we are not free, and whether creative idealism can survive in a environment bent on crushing it. See the trailer here.

3. Moor (Mother): The cinematography is stunning in this film, that explores a young man’s estrangment from his parents and hometown and his journey to trying to discover/reconnect with his identity. Well acted, but ultimately the cinematography and visuals standout the most – more than plot or characterisations. See the trailer here.

4. Na Maloom Afraad (Persons Unknown): This is a silly, light comedy. It is quite typical of Pakistani comedies, in that much of the comedy is slapstick and right there in your face (yeah, we don’t do subtlety). It is nonetheless quite enjoyable and worth watching. See the trailer here.

A Clockwork Orange – My Views on the Book and the Film

I just wrote a post about why I don’t read dystopian fiction. Another perfect example of what I don’t read is “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. The film adaptation is just as unpalatable to me.

The book is hailed as a masterpiece by some. It is not. It is the story of the sick, twisted escapades of a sadistic creep with severe antisocial personality disorder. The final chapter has this creep, who belongs in Dartmoor or Broadmoor, undergo a “reformation” of sorts upon seeing a former acquaintance settled and married. Since when do sadistic, antisocial criminals have epiphanies and decide to leave their depraved ways behind them? Never. Only in poorly contrived fiction.

The book and film portray hyper toxic masculinity, and I find it hard to understand who their intended audience is – Criminals? Closeted psychopaths? Incels of the Arthur Fleck variety? Who else would want to waste time and brain cells on portrayals of hyper toxic masculinity?

The film especially is EXTREMELY disturbing viewing with it’s light-hearted approach to the rape of minors and it’s sexualised, fetishised approach to the rape of an adult female. It is equally disgusting in it’s casual revelling in other acts of violence such as assault and battery and murder.

Don’t watch or read if:

You identify as female

You identify as male but are against hyper toxic masculinity

Have basic human values such as “rape is wrong, crime is bad”

Respect other humans and life

Want to watch or read something worth your time and energy

Why I Don’t Read Dystopian/Apocalyptic Fiction

It’s an active choice. I don’t read fiction that is set in a dystopia or an apocalyptic world.

I realise that many people do read such fiction and that they may even enjoy it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I respect your reading preferences.

For me, reading is about enjoyment as much as it is about exploring new ideas or having set ideas questioned and examined. But I draw the line at ruined, unnaturally mechanised, grey worlds of abject misery and despair.

I don’t want to read about how the world could be worse.

I don’t want to read about how humans could be worse.

I don’t want to read about even more widespread social inequalities than in our world.

I don’t want to read about the loss of nature and the loss of humanity.

I want to read books that inspire hope. And if not hope, then books that move me, set in either our own beautiful but flawed, problematic world, something like our world, something completely fantastical, or something better.

Why dwell on destruction when we can be inspired to make our world better with books like the Discworld series?

Cinema I by Gilles Deleuze – Mini Review

downloadI started reading “Cinema I: The Movement Image”  after looking into recommended reading for anyone wishing to learn more about cinema. In other words, I was hoping to find texts that would help me deepen my critical analysis of films for film reviews (and because I so wish I had read Film Studies at University).

I’m still struggling to try and read it over a year after purchasing it.

The reason for this being that “Cinema I” is complex reading for the uninitiated such as myself. It is not so much the philosophy of film as it is film as philosophy.

If you’re hardcore into philosophy and enjoy reading long paragraphs that would leave most of us utterly baffled – go for it.

For the rest of us mere mortals, I would recommend the following instead:

  • Film Theory: An Introduction by Robert Stam
  • Film Studies: An Introduction by Ed Sikov

You Do You (2017) by Sarah Knight – Review

As I promised in my review of “F**K No!”, I went on to read Sarah Knight’s other book, “You Do You“, the second in the No Fucks Given (NFG) series… and readers, it is as good as I expected!

downloadThis is the ideal read for you if:

  • You want to work on developing more self confidence
  • You want to learn to be more comfortable with yourself
  • You want to feel confident expressing yourself in front of others
  • You want to be more assertive
  • You want to tackle that inner voice of self criticism
  • You want to reduce your unrealistic perfectionist tendencies

Knight, the perfect “anti-guru” for our times, is here to help us with these concerns by first addressing “the tyranny of just because”, “lowest common denominator living” and the catchily named “Judgy McJudgerson”. You will be entertained and enlightened. She takes us on a thorough examination of the Social Contract, its various loopholes and how to navigate those whilst keeping in mind ourselves, our needs/wants and basic courtesy towards others.

It makes for motivational reading, and includes fun (and therapeutic) activities such as exploring our “Wants, Needs & Deserves”, “mental redecorating” and various others.

Another excellent self-improvement book!

Batman Through the Lens of Psychoanalysis & Transactional Analysis

Warning: Lots of psychological jargon here. My understanding of the character through the lens of two psychological theories. Likely to contain SPOILERS for Batman films and/or graphic novels.

downloadPsychoanalytic: The Batman universe is rich in material for psychoanalysis. For me, what stands out the most is the fascinating interplay of Superego and Id and the use of Sublimation (a Freudian defense mechanism). The bat, a symbol traditionally associated with the Id (all animal instincts, darkness, feral), is presented as the chosen mask of the superego (rules, right and wrong, morality). Where conventionally the two are believed to be in eternal opposition, through the Batman persona the Id is presented as successfully ruled over by the Superego.


Freud’s Model of the Mind

The mediator between Id and Superego, the Ego, is shown as the Bruce Wayne persona – the mask of the mundane, covering a moral centre driven to repeatedly attempt the symbolic “undoing” of a pivotal childhood trauma. Why is Bruce so driven to fight crime and try to make Gotham a better place? Because on an unconscious level, he is attempting to prevent the very incident that made him who he is – the murder of his parents. But because it is impossible to actually undo the murder, he is stuck being the Batman – it is a persona he cannot give up, even if he should ever want to, because to do so would be an emotional and symbolic “betrayal” of his parents. The very cause of his pain is now his life’s purpose and to give it up, or move forward, would be to give up that purpose.


Defense Mechanisms

Sublimation (to make sublime), in psychoanalysis, refers to a defense mechanism through which one’s unacceptable impulses are transformed into socially acceptable ones. The near-murderous rage, desire for revenge and violence that Bruce Wayne feels is sublimated into the more acceptable vigilantism of the Batman.

As his alter-ego (or rather, his true self) he can let loose these violent impulses in a controlled manner and context thus discharging the impulse and retaining moral ground and emotional equilibrium.

imagesFurthermore, the Batman identity is masked not just for practical reasons but for the freedom offered by masks. To be an unidentified vigilante allows Bruce to be his true self and to drop the mask he wears everyday (To quote ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, this mask is “Bruce Wayne: eccentric billionaire”). He can transform himself into whatever he wishes to be as the Batman – he is not bound by the same socio-cultural limits as he would be as Bruce Wayne. (And to quote again from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Rachel notes, at the end of Batman Begins, “This is your mask. Your real face is the one that criminals now fear”).


PAC model from Transactional Analysis Theory

Transactional Analysis (TA): One of the foundational concepts of TA is the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) model which posits (in simple words) that each person is made up an inner Parent (our rules for living, how things are done – akin to the Superego of psychoanalysis), and inner Adult (our here-and-now processing and decision-making) and an inner child (feelings and perceptions stored from the past). It is hypothesised that we utilise all three parts, but it is usual for one or two parts to be dominant. This model is akin to the Superego, Ego and Id but with subtle differences.

In terms of the PAC model, it seems that Bruce Wayne has a strong inner Parent. The virtues of his parents are idolised and frozen in time because of the distorted perception of childhood memory and trauma. Thus, the recordings of behaviours, thoughts and feelings in the Parent state are very clear and fairly intense. The Adult state is developed and present, but with apparent contamination from the Child state (i.e., Bruce’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the here-and-now and consciously and unconsciously influenced by the thoughts and feelings experienced originally in his childhood) and the Parent state (i.e., the rules, shoulds/musts).


Model of Injunctions & Counter-Injunctions by Lee (1988)

Additionally, TA also theorises that we develop injunctions and counter-injunctions to direct our lives. Injunctions are statements about how we ought to exist, often phrased as “Don’ts” (i.e., “Don’t enjoy”) whilst counter-injunctions are means of coping with injunctions (“I can ONLY enjoy things if I am perfect/work hard/am strong/ please others”).

Injunctions and counter-injunctions are often subconsciously received either from those around us or developed by ourselves.

For more on injunctions and counter-injunctions, see this.

Bruce Wayne appears to have the following injunctions and counter-injunctions:

Injunction 1: Don’t be a Child – This appears to be an injunction that Bruce may have given himself after the traumatic loss of his parents, feeling it unsafe to be a child – to be vulnerable, dependent on others or to possess the natural free creativity and joy of childhood.


Panel from “The Killing Joke”

One of the experiences associated with the Child state is laughter – and there are almost no instances of Bruce laughing in the graphic novels or films. The only time when we see him laughing freely (and even very disturbingly) is in the graphic novel, “The Killing Joke” at a moment when his very sanity is in question.

People with this injunction tend to be overly responsible, in control and along the lines of what is known as a Type A personality. The subconscious messages received may be “Always act like a grown-up!” “Don’t be so childish” “ “You need to be responsible” “You must be in control”.

Injunction 2: Don’t be Close – This too appears to be a self-given injunction in the absence of his own parents. Again, it seems to me, that this injunction arises from the traumatic loss of his parents (i.e., “I loved once and it brought me pain so I will not let people in again”). Variations of this injunction are “Don’t Love” and “Don’t Trust”. As is evident, people with this injunction stay distant and have difficulty with intimacy and affection.

Depending on which series of graphic novels one is reading (Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, or Post-Crisis Revised), there are different reasons for the eventual distancing of Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, but the reading that fits with this injunction is that Grayson grows tired of being Wayne’s protege and surrogate son in the face of Wayne’s apparent emotional distance. Much of Damian Wayne’s relationship with his father is similarly charcaterised by emotional distance and apparent coldness, leading to him being a very different Batman as compared to his father (‘Time & the Batman’ – amazing graphic novel, highly recommended).

Counter-injunction: Be Strong – Related to the ‘Don’t be a Child’ injunction, Bruce appears to function with a ‘Be Strong’ counter-injunction that requires toughness, emotional control and resilience. People with a ‘Be Strong’ injunction can often push themselves well beyond their emotional or physical limits (Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond and in The Dark Knight Rises), failing to recognise healthy restrictions. This counter-injunction masks inner feelings of “Not Okay-ness” (inadequacy, rejection, sadness, rage etc), and as long as it is in place a person feels “Okay” or in control or able to accept themselves (conditional self acceptance). And so it is with Bruce: as long as he follows this counter-injunction via the Batman persona, he can live with himself, which is why he is never likely to give up his secret identity – it is so deeply tied to his very existence on a psychological and emotional level.

TA also proposes the idea of ‘life scripts’ i.e., that each of us decides upon a life story for ourselves (usually by the age of 7 years, with minor tweaking in adolescence) and then proceeds to live out that story.

imagesBruce seems to have a winning script, i.e., he is able to set goals for himself and is able to meet those goals. Eric Berne, the originator of TA theory, described a winner as “one who accomplishes (their) declared purpose” – and to which Robert Goulding added – “and makes the world a better place as a result”. The application is self evident here, I feel. Bruce sets out to be a vigilante and reduce crime in Gotham, and in most versions of the graphic novels and films this end is achieved to a large degree.

Arguably, however, his script may be considered a hamartic script. A hamartic script is one where the likely end is “the morgue, the madhouse or the courtroom”. In other words, a self-destructive script, and in Bruce Wayne’s case, his script is indeed likely to end in one of the three institutions mentioned formerly. In the absence of healthy emotional relationships, resolution of trauma and looking forward towards the future, and a life rich in positive experiences of self growth, Batman’s script is indeed self-destructive as it holds him bound to a trauma in the past.

In addition to winning, losing and hamartic, Berne also characterised script types as analogous to Greek myths (Script Process). Bruce appears to have an “Until” script process, otherwise known as a Hercules script. This script is characterised by “I can’t have fun/be happy/live my own life UNTIL XYZ is accomplished”. This is very much the case with Bruce. To quote from The Dark Knight (2008) “that day that you once told me about, when Gotham would no longer need Batman” is a day that shall never come – there will always be another evil to confront, another criminal to catch, another cause requiring justice or vengeance; and yet Bruce lives his life working with that day in mind, never pausing to savour his life as it passes him by.

And there you have it – my interpretation of Bruce Wayne/ Batman via aspects of psychoanalysis and transactional analysis. Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Thoughts on the Appeal of Toxic Male Characters in Film & Television

NOTE: Contains one instance of swearing. Spoilers for some of the TV series / films used for reference. 

I would love to say, “I don’t get it. It makes no sense to me.”

It would be nice to have the moral high ground here.

Sadly, I, too, have been guilty of ‘romanticising’ a toxic character (only the one, though – to my mild relief): Guy of Gisbourne from the 2006 BBC Robin Hood series.

I hate that I still have mixed feelings (sort of) about this character. More on that later.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately: why are blatantly toxic and/or abusive male characters on screen “forgiven” for their behaviour and even revered/adored/romanticised/”stanned” by female (or other) viewers?

downloadThis was prompted by my decision to revisit ‘The Vampire Diaries’, starting with series 1 and quitting just after episode 1 of series 4. Back when the show was first airing on television, I was decidedly pro-Stelena.

Today, I am still a Stelena fan, but would also have settled fairly happily for an ending with Elena choosing neither of the Salvatores and either being on her own or with someone else (preferably both as humans).

In other words, pretty much ANYTHING but the God awful Delena endgame that the show’s writers opted for.  (Mini- rant here but seriously? SERIOUSLY people? Damon — let this sink in — DAMON SALVATORE is the “better man”?!? Are you fucking kidding me?)

Anyway, my point is that obviously the writers found the idea of the Damon-Elena pairing highly “romantic” as did many viewers and fans of the show. This pairing was immensely popular, despite Damon being troublingly toxic on screen. Let’s review his charge sheet:

1) Has stalked and tormented his brother for over a 100 years because of a grudge

2) Emotionally and sexually abuses (rapes) Elena’s friend Caroline (I’m not going to argue this point – no matter what anyone thinks, “compulsion” is akin to the absence of consent and thus anything that happens under compulsion is a violation. More for a more detailed breakdown, I refer you to this excellent post, and to this one.)

3) Repeatedly endangers and even threatens to kill Elena’s friends Bonnie and Matt

4) Intends to kill, and attempts to kill, her brother when she first refuses his sexual advances

5) His inability to understand choice and consent – he repeatedly mocks his brother for caring about what Elena wants, rather than just doing what he deems needs to be done

6) His obsessive and disturbingly possessive attitude towards Elena (forcing her to drink vampire blood so that she could be resurrected as a vampire should anything happen to her — despite her ABSOLUTELY NOT WANTING THIS.)

7) He uses and abuses people to cope with his “feelings” (e.g., Andie). Every time he faces any difficult emotion, he either lashes out in violence towards Elena and her loved ones or towards other innocent people (because, ‘oh poor Damon, life’s not fair’).

8) He never takes responsibility. He always blames others for “making” him behave in certain ways.

(For a more detailed summary, see this)

And despite all this, somehow this pairing is supposed to be “epic love”. Oh and we’re supposed to excuse all Damon’s toxic behaviour because he had an abusive father.

I get that his tragic backstory informs who he is now – he was deeply affected by what he suffered. But honestly, at some point a person needs to grow up and decide to take responsibility for who they are – either by choosing to break free of the past or investing in extensive psychotherapy.

But the Damon Salvatore character is just one example.

downloadThere’s also the ridiculously popular Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. Ugh. SO PROBLEMATIC:

1) Attempts to rape a minor (Jenny, aged 14) at a party

2) Attempts to force himself on his (alleged) close friend, Serena

3) Much like Damon Salvatore, when faced with difficult emotions or situations, he self-sabotages and lashes out and blames everyone except himself

4) He is physically violent towards his love interest Blair (see this page for a detailed commentary on this)

5) He sabotages Blair’s relationship with someone else because he’s jealous

Seeing any commonalities here? Because I am.

I’m starting to see a pattern: “handsome” / conventionally attractive + obsessive+ misogynist + abusive = “romantic hero”.

Whoever came up with this formula needs to take some time out for reflection and reevaluation of their fundamental beliefs (and others affected by this idea need to do the same).

downloadTravelling back in time to the early 1990s, you might come across a film called ‘Blink‘ starring Madeleine Stowe and Aidan Quinn.

Whilst a suspenseful (and erotic) thriller, the film is disturbing in an unintentional way – the romantic pairing of Detective John Hallstrom and the female protagonist Emma.

Hallstrom, portrayed by the attractive young Quinn, is a massive jerk and is very clearly abusive towards Emma.

1) He attempts to humiliate her when she first arrives at the police station to report a possible murder

2) He ridicules her blindness

3) He is controlling

4) He is physically violent (he shoves her around and smashes her hand into a mirror).

downloadGoing back further in time, to the 1980s, we have ‘Reckless‘. A film about teen angst and what feels like an attempt at making the Anti ‘Grease’. It is the edgier, broody alternative to Grease’s smiles, sparkles and sunshine. Its a film that I liked, and one I would find interesting to analyse.

However, the male protagonist, Johnny Rourke (also portrayed by Aidan Quinn) is a cause for concern. There are many indications that he has painful emotions that he needs to sort through. Yet, he ends up running away with the equally angsty female lead and we are supposed to cheer for them – even though everything points towards a disastrous future for them.

imagesThese are only a few examples, but one’s that have made me ponder.

Much like these characters, Richard Armitage’s Guy of Gisbourne is extremely problematic.

He’s got a lot of emotional issues to sort through, but more significantly:

1) He forces his courtship upon the uninterested Marian

2) He burns her home to the ground (on the Sheriff’s orders, and also because he’s angry at her for rejecting him)

images-13) He nearly forces her to marry him

4) He is obsessed with the idea of her, and builds her up as this epitome of virtue and goodness through whom he can be “saved”

5) He is repeatedly violent and apparently remorseless about this violence towards others  (whether at his own initiative or the orders of the Sheriff)

6) He kills Marian, after her final rejection of him

7) He is revealed to be guilty of having sold off his own sister to a brute (for whatever reason)

…and yet Guy and Marian were more fervently “shipped” than Marian and Robin could ever hope to be. I can’t be sure what it was.

I mean, I know it helps that Gisbourne has Richard Armitage’s face, but what else?

The moments where Guy shows vulnerability, however briefly, before Marian?

The tragic backstory?

The series 3 redemption arc?

The tragic death?

I can’t be sure. But that is not, and ought to not, be enough to have him so adored by fans. Can we really overlook all the above, because he suffered in life?

Surely not.

We may perhaps understand why he is who he is, but we cannot condone it. Basically, he’s a lot like Damon Salvatore, but played by a more attractive man (in my opinion). I hate to admit this, but there it is. My most hated fictional character is very much like my favourite villain. Ugh. Why.

Is the appeal of these toxic characters related to basic human superficiality? Yes, you read that correctly. Humankind is ridiculously superficial, as shown by psychological research.

People judged to be more attractive are more easily forgiven – we’re more willing to overlook bad behaviour from people we deem attractive as compared to people we deem unattractive. We are more willing to attribute positive qualities (such as kindness or intelligence) to people we consider attractive, we’re more likely to display prosocial behaviour towards them, and they are likely to have an advantage in the workplace and in legal proceedings.

For more details on this ‘beauty bias’, read this.

One way to circumnavigate our conditioning might be the Freddy Krueger Test. This is a little test of my own invention. When tempted to make excuses for the fictional toxic male on your screen, ask yourself, “Would I be okay with this if he looked like Freddy Krueger?” Take a moment to visualise your favourite toxic character behaving in his usual way with Krueger’s appearance. It might help remove the rose-tinted spectacles of a beautiful face. Or it might not. Either way, worth a try, don’t you think?

While attractiveness is one explanation (and many people do find Ian Somerhalder, Ed Westwick, Aidan Quinn et al attractive), I don’t think its the complete answer. But then nor do I think I have a complete answer – just one other possible explanation.

My second suggestion is related to Karpman’s Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle is a model for understanding problematic interactions between people, especially in situations of conflict. It hypothesises that a person takes on one of three roles (1) victim (helplessness) (2) persector (blaming, controlling, oppressive) or (3) rescuer (“let me save you!”). Could it be that we find toxic characters appealing because of our own ‘rescuer’ tendencies – our need to “save” other people, to “fix” people?

I have no definitive answers, but I’d be curious to know what readers think – post your comments!

What Would Boudicca Do? by Elizabeth Foley & Beth Coates (2018)

61sqiKtMZhL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This book is the ideal read for international women’s day (and for all people in general).

Foley & Coates celebrate a handful of incredible women from history, from around the world, and help us see how these ladies can still inspire us today.

I was immensely pleased to see some of my favourite historical ladies on the list: Boudicca, Grace O’Malley, Elizabeth I and Agatha Christie. We have history together! (Lame attempt at a pun, I concede). I was an avid history buff as a child, and devoured every Horrible Histories or Dead Famous book I could get my hands on. If I wasn’t to be found with my nose in a book, I was obsessively using our (now outdated) desktop PC to search the internet for any information on the Tudors, especially Henry VIII, his wives, Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, or Boudicca.

I had much sympathy for the ill-fated Ann Boleyn (and to this day find Jane Seymour utterly loathsome) and for her daughter. What has always stayed with me about Elizabeth I is how she didn’t let her tragic start in life define her – instead, she proved to be a strong ruler and one who kept her own counsel despite being a woman in a man’s world. I was moved by the sadness she must have endured (the loss of her mother, being declared illegitimate by her father, Thomas Seymour’s seemingly weird paedophilic behaviour, Robert Dudley’s betrayal etc etc). She truly lived the (mock-latin) phrase “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” – rather, she resisted and flourished.

Similarly, Boudicca’s rage and her defiance in the face of oppression and injustice spoke to me. This was a woman who wasn’t going to resign herself to misery – she fought back. Something most women hesitate to do, for various reasons.

Grace O’Malley found a place in my heart when I read ‘The Ghost of Grania O’Malley‘ by Michael Morpugo. The Irish pirate queen’s fierce self-belief and determination stayed with me.

And of course, Dame Agatha Christie. She wrote books that I love, and made a successful writing career in her life time. I wanted to be a writer like her. I dreamed of writing a detective story as thorough, as well thought out, as well tied together. And perhaps, somewhere I felt a sympathy for her, a protectiveness of her when I read of the wild accusations levelled at her for what was probably a fugue state brought on by the stress of her first husband’s betrayal.

Seeing these women honoured in the book made the reading experience more rewarding for me.

I also really enjoyed discovering other inspiring ladies such as Akiko Yosano, Sophia Duleep Singh, and Soraya Tarzi to name but a few.

Three Psychology, Psychotherapy & Mental Health Reads

Since I’m a psychologist by day (and book/film blogger by night only – oh how tragic that this doesn’t pay; I’d love to wax lyrical about books and films on a daily basis), I do often end up reading books related to psychotherapy and mental health. Here’s a list of some psychology books that I’ve recently enjoyed reading.



  1. The Examined Life: How We Lose & Find Ourselves (Stephen Grosz): Dr. Grosz brings psychoanalysis and therapeutic encounters to life in his collection of anecdotal essays, written in the style of personal memoirs. Easy to read, with short chapters/anecdotes, and thought-provoking too.



  1. download-1In Therapy: The Unfolding Story (Susie Orbach): Dr. Orbach, also a psychoanalyst like Dr. Grosz, demystifies the therapeutic experience through her recording of several client sessions and her observations and commentary regarding those sessions. A must read for anyone interested in therapy. 


  1. download-2Fat is a Feminist Issue (Susie Orbach): Here, Dr. Orbach tackles the issue of “Fat” – what does it mean to be ‘fat’? What are its connotations? Why do we have those particular connotations? What does “fat” mean for women who are overweight or described as being fat? Dr. Orbach provides a psychoanalytic perspective that suggests that “fat” is a far more psychological and social a concern than many may realise – it is not just about the physical reality of weight, but rather it is to do with more subtle and complex concerns such as attachment, safety, emotional regulation, nourishment etc.