My next blog will be about book reviews. Although I might change my mind. (I have not.) In the interim, I agree with Brian Sewell. (The following quote comes from my publisher, Naim Attallah’s marvellous interview with Sewell in his book, No Longer With Us: encounters with Naim Attallah, published by Quartet Books, November 2018). Sewell, who was infamous for his waspish and even vitriolic criticism, defends himself against such allegations in the interview. I agree with him. I actually agree with 95 percent of the interview, but specifically here when he answers Naim’s question:
But do you worry about the effect that your attack might have on the person who is under attack?
I think it is fair game. If a man has put himself forward…then he must take what comes…It is absurd that he should ask for praise and then be angry if he gets something other than praise.
Whether we are talking about art, performance or books – our offerings as creator are voluntary – there is no reason to suspect that they will change the world by their appearance, although they may. Essentially, all creativity is based in narcissism. I do not go along with the common assumption that narcissism is always a dirty word. But, once anyone pushes – and yes the act is one that mimics birth – something out into the world as a professional object one/me is offering myself up as a sacrificial victim to the subjectivity, or less responsibly, the whim albeit, one hopes at the least, a serious or even a profound whim of the critic.
However hard professional critics may try to exercise objectivity, I know as a disenchanted psychoanalyst that nobody can ever excise our judgment from influencing our view of the subject, although we are probably better than many professionals at regulating it. What else does the critic have with which to re-view, and note the pun, the object of his gaze other than his subjectivity and the seriousness with which he views his task. His commitment to being serious and not whimsical must also embody a life’s study of phenomenology.
When these two essential qualities descend to whim and fantasy, or even worse, laziness and repetition, they become spurious. By contrast libel is a legal matter. In the following review of my book what hurt me most was not Jeffries’ mocking tone, not even his libellous insinuations which have now fortunately been removed from the Internet.
When I woke up and looked online and saw that Jeffries was the Spectator reviewer I felt an excited anticipation of being respectfully reviewed. Jeffries, despite his boisterous journalism, is also a thoughtful intellectual and academic. I met him previously in 2009 when he interviewed me after I was shortlisted for the Penn Ackerley prize. I mistakenly thought he had respect for me and many years later – when a shared acquaintance told me Jeffries had published an important book on one of his intellectual heroes, Herbert Marcuse, who I had happened to meet many years earlier – I wrote and congratulated him. I was not prepared for the mocking tone and satire that was lying in wait to humiliate me.
What hurt me most were not the jibes at the cover of the book, nor myself presented as Desdemona, and at least I have so far survived her murderous fate. It was the fantastical, or grotesque account Jeffries conjured of me standing at my consulting room door and barking at the people who consult me that they were unworthy or too boring to have been included in the pages of my book! How callous is that but even worse the section satirised is a serious attempt to explore the ethics of writing clinical vignettes, wh-ich in my case were all submitted to the subject for scrutiny and permission before publication.
There are more thorny issues at play here than merely disguising material and requesting permission. There is the possibility that the subject, (I am reluctant to use the word patient willy-nilly) may feel that if they don’t collaborate with their therapist’s request they will somehow be penalised, especially if their default role in relationships is to be an ‘enabler’. Or, that the therapy will be negatively affected by their refusal. There are many theoretic papers exploring the issues of including patient’s lives, but I wanted to consider what it means not to be included in a therapist’s book. I will not repeat my argument here as it is elucidated in the chapter whose content bears no resemblance whatsoever to Jeffries’s description of the charade he parades at at my door. (See below). However, the review situation gets worse. Those lines have remained in the review without protest because they are confirmed as imagined, whereas other sentences, presented as fact, have had to be removed by the Editor in order to avoid a claim against The Spectator.
Stuart Jeffries review in The Spectator
Jane Haynes: the shrink who loves to break the rules
Haynes continues to go where her fellow therapists fear to tread — even to the extent of confessing her failuresS
Jane Haynes, self-styled Desdemona of the consulting room, with her dog DidoS
27 October 2018
If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild: A Memoir of Self and Other
Quartet, pp.248, £20
‘I have fallen in love many times in my consulting room,’ writes the psychotherapist Jane Haynes. ‘I do not mean that I want to have an explicit sexual relationship,’ she clarifies. That said, she describes herself as the Desdemona of the consulting room, falling in love as she listens to ‘someone share the pity of their history’. And like Othello’s stories that titillated Desdemona, Haynes’s narratives of her and her patients’ painful lives are compelling, if passing strange, particularly given that her profession is usually reticent about what goes on behind closed doors between shrink and shrunken.
Haynes offers her insight into that secret world: ‘They present me with their “lives” just as Salome was presented John the Baptist’s head on a golden platter.’ Perhaps don’t stress that to prospective patients, eh? Therapists aren’t supposed to write like this. They’re not meant to be seduced by clients’ narratives. And they aren’t supposed to be quite so discombobulatingly gabby in print.
Freud, after all, insisted that the analyst must remain a blank slate in order to facilitate the transference process that he took to be essential to psychoanalysis’s talking cure. Haynes and many other therapists don’t hold with this: she follows Freud’s disciple-turned-critic Sándor Ferenczi, who thought analyst and analysand should be co-participants in what Haynes calls ‘the healing encounter by the creation of a symmetrical dyad’.
But there’s a problem with this. The dyad is never symmetrical — not least because no analyst has ever paid an analysand at the end of a session, so far as I know. Indeed, Haynes points out that ‘long therapy can be the monthly equivalent to a short-term mortgage’, though she admits to ‘fee structuring’ for poorer patients. No matter: her brand of relational psychotherapy, following Ferenczi, holds that ‘self-disclosure of the analyst could be an important reparative force’.
Haynes broke the secular confessional’s seal ten years ago with her first volume of memoirs — admittedly only after clients read and approved what she planned to publish, but still outraging colleagues who one easily imagines flinging scatter cushions around north London couches in exasperation. In that book, Who Is It That Can Tell Me Who I Am? (she has a thing about Shakespeare: her first book’s title was King Lear’s question; the new book’s comes from Henry VIII’s wail about his dad), Haynes wrote about a patient she called Miss Suicide. After cancelling a session, Miss Suicide bought some whisky and paracetamol, checked into a Holiday Inn, took the pills and booze and pulled a plastic bag over her head. A passing chambermaid saved Miss Suicide’s life.
Haynes transcribed the dyad’s subsequent conversation. Haynes: ‘I knew that you had put a plastic bag over your head but [laughing] I didn’t know it was a Tesco shopping bag!’ ‘Yes, it was, it was!’ replies Miss Suicide. ‘I hadn’t premeditated it. You see, it was to hand and I thought, well, just to make sure.’
In the book she tells Miss Suicide, honestly if brusquely: ‘I didn’t have a burning desire to save you… there had already been too many failures for that, and it would have been hubris on my part to think I could become your saviour.’
That memoir became the only self-published book to be shortlisted for the PEN/Ackerley award for autobiography. Now Quartet is publishing a new volume. Miss Suicide doesn’t reappear (hope she’s OK, concerned face), but Haynes has a cast of characters a novelist would enjoy juggling. There’s the Pianist, whose ‘tyrannical perfectionism meant that nobody had ever witnessed him perform’, but who finally brings tapes of his playing for the enchanted Haynes to hear. There’s the Professor, who leaves his sexless marriage for a ‘Dionysian carnival of flagrant desire and unaccustomed international extravagance’ with a post-doctoral European research student called the Scarlet Woman. After marrying him, she mutates into la belle dame sans merci and abandons him, leading him to lick his wounds with a third wife. There’s the New Yorker who flies in for a week of intense therapy after one of his twin sons takes his own life, and he’s further traumatised by being unexpectedly exposed to a forensic investigator’s iPhone images of the death scene.
One character, an eminent QC, sees Haynes for three years but ultimately she admits defeat: a new drug regime rather than therapy ameliorates his lifelong depression. It’s hard not to admire Haynes for confessing her failures — in this admission, as in others in this memoir, she goes where her peers fear to tread.
Near the end she reports that some patients have been disappointed not to find themselves written up in her books, assuming that ‘their lives are too bland to have left any mark’. I imagine her giving them proof copies, adding: ‘Sadly, your story didn’t make the cut. How does that make you feel?’
Haynes also mines her own life for copy. As a girl, she was abandoned by her mother, who was sectioned and given ECT after a nervous breakdown, and raised, albeit briefly, by a father dying of syphilis, who ultimately suffered what doctors called ‘general paralysis of the insane’. She became an actress but had an epiphany after reading R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self and trained as a therapist. Soon she was taking LSD with her charismatic Glaswegian mentor in front of her young children, reading erotic poetry at counter-cultural 1960s night clubs, and in raptures over Laing’s playing of Scriabin. In one memorable scene, Haynes is transfixed as the cross-legged guru, a kind of upscale but equally libidinous Austin Powers, asks: ‘Whose womb would you be born from?’ The question inspires Haynes to reflect on what her mum did to her and what she in turn did to her two children, with conclusions familiar to readers of Philip Larkin.
The book is as engagingly digressive as a Ronnie Corbett monologue, and Knausgaardian in its mash-up of the literary and the personal (a chapter on Proust follows a painful meditation on her apparently incurable irritable bowel syndrome). But it’s rather undone by dustjacket encomia. Matt Lucas (foil to David Walliams in Little Britain) praises her writing. And we learn from the blurb that the Blue Door practice in Marylebone which Haynes runs with her daughter Tanya was ‘hailed by Tatler as one of London’s most prestigious private practices’. Is ‘prestige’ what one wants from such a consultancy? And if so, why?
Not for the first time, Haynes’s judgment seems questionable. Indeed, the wisest remark in this thoroughly entertaining book comes from someone else, the Freudian analyst Adam Phillips. ‘People organise their lives to avoid the imagined catastrophe of certain conversations; and they come into analysis, however fluent they may be, because they are unable to speak.’ Haynes, who quotes this with approval, sees her job similarly: as encouraging her patients to talk about the unspeakable.
Once, while I was interviewing Haynes a few years ago in her St John’s Wood consulting room, her phone rang. ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ went the ring tone. As this book shows, there’s so much more to therapy than that.
Editor’s Note: Following a complaint from Jane Haynes about an inaccuracy in the review, two sentences that appeared in the print edition have been removed from this online version with apologies.
Vis Jeffries’s comments on the Proust chapter: ‘Proust’s Anacoluthon’, in which the offending lines have now been removed by the Editor of The Spectator, my colleague and friend, Professor Christopher Prendergast, Editor of the Penguin Modern Classics ‘In Search of Lost Time’, immediately wrote a letter of protest to the Editor. The magazine chose not to publish. Reluctantly, I will not include it in its entirety here because it has been suggested to me it might have been regarded as libellous of their journalist. But, as Pendergast reminds us in this paragraph from his unpublished letter. (The repetition refers to an anecdote from Jeffries’s interview with me in the Guardian in 2009 about my first memoir, ‘Who is it who can tell me who I am?’ in which an extended part of his interview was devoted to a patient who, with her permission, is referred to as Miss Suicide. Although she is still most thankfully alive, she is not referred to in the book under review except by Jeffries.)
Proust also knew a thing or two about the review-industry. His acknowledged predecessor, Balzac knew a very great deal about it. In the novel that entranced and influenced Proust, Lost Illusions, the world of the journalistic review is seen as a form of commodity capitalism that crucially involves the churning and recycling of already used material. In that connection, I invite your readers to flip back to an interview piece with Jane Haynes by Stuart Jeffries. It appeared some nine years ago in the Guardian. Then place it alongside the review in this week’s issue of The Spectator. They will see immediately, almost word for word, what I mean.
When Pendergast’s letter failed to be published and I received no explanation or apology from Jeffries, I wrote a letter to the Editor:
Simply not true November 2018
Sir: In his review of my book If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild (27 October) Stuart Jeffries notes my chapter on ‘Proust’s Anacoluthon’ and says nothing about it as such, but a lot about himself. Specifically, he makes a claim whose publication has damaged my professional reputation as a psychotherapist, suggesting that I host dinner parties for former clients:
Later, Miss Suicide became, along with several other former patients, a guest at Haynes’s dinner parties, some of them Proust-themed. I yearn for an invitation, and picture myself entering twirling my moustache with top hat, cane and reputation for licentiousness as the Baron de Charlus.
To entertain ‘former patients’ in this way would not be ethical, and would be in breach of the practice of psychotherapy. At no time has this statement been corroborated or endorsed. It is simply not true. I validate Jeffries’s assertion that I am the shrink who confesses her failures and it is possible that in certain circumstances I may go in my writing ‘where her peers fear to tread’. Which of us seeking to find our way through life does not sometimes need to challenge the rigid Ten Commandments?
My professional work is conducted within a responsible and ethical framework, which your reporting contradicts. I would be grateful for a published confirmation of the online removal of the offending passage. When it comes to protecting my professional reputation Jeffries scores full points, — I am indeed ‘no shrinking violet’.
The Spectator has withdrawn the sentences complained of from the review as published online. We apologise to Jane Haynes for the error.
As a result of being reviewed in The Spectator and Times Literary Supplement, I decided to subscribe to both publications. I realised, not generally reading newsprint that I was missing out on the publication of many potentially interesting books. I purchased five books as a result of the fascinating reviews. Out of five books only two have lived up to their descriptions, ‘The Penguin Book of The Prose Poem’ and an extraordinary book about the saint: ‘Francis A Life in Songs’ by Ann Wroe. (Both superbly reviewed to reflect their content by Kate Kellaway in The Guardian.)
With regard to the other three books, which I shall not name, the reviews were infinitely more interesting and provocative than the books which half read, I donated to Oxfam. Maybe book reviews have become less about the book than the reviewer…