Families and How to Survive Them (by Robin Skynner and John Cleese)

I can remember when I first came across this book. It was probably about fifteen year ago; I saw it advertised in our local library in Birmingham. I picked it up, skimmed a page or two, put it down again. I knew of John Cleese, of course, from the TV series 'Fawlty Towers'. The other author, Robin Skynner, was apparently his family therapist. The book was written as a conversation between the two of them.

Over several weeks I grew steadily more intrigued, and finally borrowed a copy of 'Families and how to survive them' from the library. It basically covers beginning psychiatry for the layman. It's fairly light-hearted, written with some humour, plenty of anecdotes, and a few fascinating digressions.

But in essence, it looks at the reasons why some people are happy while others are not; why some people have repressed emotions, and what happens to them; what can cause people to become 'stuck' emotionally in their development from babyhood as they grow up physically.

When I first read this, I found it extremely helpful in understanding my sons (who were then around eight and six) rather better, and seeing what stages they had reached. Even now, as an empty-nester, I can see a lot of value in this for self-help, working out how people tick, and why some are so much easier to get along with than others.

It's nothing to do with my regular favourite topic of personality preferences (which are inbuilt). This book is much more to do with family background and relationships, and shows how easy it is to pick up family habits and problems - and how it's possible to grow through and out of them too.

The humour is decidedly 'British', with a fair amount of irony. A non-British friend once told me that she simply didn't get the cartoon line-drawings scattered here and there in the text; she even found some of them mildly offensive. There's the odd curse-word too.

But overall, I felt the book well worth reading. Re-reading recently, it gave me several 'aha' moments. Take it with a pinch of salt; I certainly don't agree with every word. But if you ever wanted to know why some families get along and others don't, in broad terms, I'd recommend this book highly.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th September 2010

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