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Groarke, S. (2017). The good story: exchanges on truth, fiction and psychotherapy by J. M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz Harvill Secker, London, 2015; 198 pp; £16.99 - Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 98(6):1830-1839.

(2017). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 98(6):1830-1839

The good story: exchanges on truth, fiction and psychotherapy by J. M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz Harvill Secker, London, 2015; 198 pp; £16.99 -

Review by:
Steven Groarke

In their co-authored book, The Good Story, (2015), the novelist, essayist and literary translator J. M. Coetzee and the clinical psychologist Arabella Kurtz stage a dialogue of sorts, what they call an ‘exchange’, which circles around the central theme of personal and historical truth, with the remarkably ambitious aim of opening “a new perspective” (p. viii) not only on the therapeutic situation itself, but also on the wider psychotherapeutic project in contemporary culture. This is a tall order and the authors set themselves a further challenge in attempting to reach the layman through the use of non-technical language and only a bare minimum of citations - there isn't a single reference to Freud, for instance, in the short list of bibliographical references. A knowingly light touch thus adds to the ‘conversational’ style of a book that meanders, double backs, ruminates, and isn't averse to contradicting itself.

We aren't told how the exchange got started, although a preliminary Authors' Note indicates the extent to which Kurtz was intrigued by the strange sense of interiority in Coetzee's novels. The novels themselves aren't discussed; in fact, there are only a few passing references to the novels - Life and Times of Michael K, Elizabeth Costello and Summertime- throughout the course of the book. Nevertheless, Kurtz emphasizes the degree to which the novels and psychoanalytical psychotherapy represent “radically different” (p. viii) perspectives on the ‘internal world’. The emphasis seems well placed to me, given that psychoanalysis inevitably comes up against something unsettlingly strange in literature. On the face of it Kurtz and Coetzee have little in common, notwithstanding the obvious point that language is both the matter of literature and the medium of therapeutic action in psychoanalysis; and in the penultimate chapter, Coetzee attempts to spell out what he sees as their “fundamental difference” (p. 153), with respect to the therapeutic dialogue.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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