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Sat Jun 25 03:33:47 SAST 2016

Blame it on Mom and Dad

Andrew Donaldson | 15 March, 2016 00:38
Andrew Donaldson. File photo

Trussed in us...

Little Boy Blue by MJ Arlidge (Michael Joseph) R330

This is the fifth in Arlidge's gritty, harrowing procedurals featuring DI Helen Grace, a tough but troubled Southampton cop who battles perhaps typical personal demons, not with the usual gargantuan intake of drugs and booze, but through the controlled use of pain, administered by her loyal dominator, Jake. When a murder takes place in a local BDSM club, Grace's somewhat complex private life is threatened with exposure. Dark, twisted stuff.

The issue

This year marks the debut of the Man Booker International Prize, celebrating fiction translated into English, as an annual award. Previously it was awarded every second year to an author for an entire body of work. The 2016 long-list, then: A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola); The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (Italy); The Vegetarian by Han Kang (South Korea); Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France); Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia); The Four Books by Yan Lianke (China); Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria); A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (Brazil); Ladivine by Marie N Diaye (France); Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan); White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen (Finland); A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey); and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (Austria).

Crash course

The British psychologist Oliver James is the go-to self-help guru du jour. There's an iconoclasm in his work that's made him a prominent feature in the cultural landscape. Groundbreaking books like Affluenza, a brilliant take on materialism, and Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks, which helps you deal with psychopaths, Machiavellians and narcissists at work (your boss), are mandatory reading. He's just as good on the home front. They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life and How Not to F*** Them Up are both widely acclaimed manuals.

There's growing sentiment, though, that James may have pushed it a bit too far with his latest, Not in Your Genes: The Real Reasons Children Are Like Their Parents (Vermillion). Here he argues that mental health problems - depression, addiction, sexual promiscuity, ADHD, even schizophrenia - are almost entirely the fault of parenting and, to a lesser extent, culture. Parents, albeit unintentionally, impose aspects of their own upbringing on their kids. "It is not genes that pass traits between generations," he argues. "It is patterns of nurture."

But the Guardian columnist Deborah Orr has suggested that blaming parents for a child's mental illness was "unnecessary and cruel" and has described James's interpretation of DNA research as "embarrassingly facile". Gloves off, then.

The bottom line

"If gods can be fashioned by mortal imitation, how real can they be?" - Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh (Faber and Faber)

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