Sunday, July 25, 2010


One of the many lovely things about reading fiction for a living is that it tends to make you an armchair (time-)traveller. Just in the last few weeks I've read books set in the 1990s, the 1970s, the 1950s and the 1760s; books set in Scotland, Leningrad, Berlin and Buenos Aires, the Netherlands, the English Midlands, Chennai, Chicago and country Victoria, just off the top of my head.

Many of the novels I read for review are partly or wholly set in times and places of brutal regimes. One juxtaposes 1970s Argentina with the German Democratic Republic (so-called) of the same era. Another is set in Leningrad in 1952, where survivors of the wartime Siege of Leningrad are now living under Stalin, speaking in whispers, fearing their neighbours, watching their own every move. A third is partly set in India, where everything that happens is immediately politicised and a herpetologist knows better than to try to find out who it was, knowing that he would come home that night exhausted and therefore not thinking or moving quickly, who left a deadly snake in a basket on his verandah.

So every time I see people snarling and squabbling over Rudd v Gillard, or even over Gillard v Abbott, much less get irresistibly drawn into said squabbling myself, I think of a phrase that has been much in my thoughts ever since I first came across it, one that has had a calming effect on many occasions and has reminded me again and again how extraordinarily useful and powerful a psychoanalytic angle can be in explaining our behaviour to ourselves: 'the narcissism of small differences'.

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat

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