|Will Eaves The Absent Therapist
|Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2014
Reissued in 2016 with new cover
To listen to Will Eaves reading from The Absent Therapist in a podcast produced by Tempest Productions and released in October 2021, click here.
‘The Absent Therapist is a miniature but infinite novel, and unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s just achingly good.’
– Luke Kennard
The Absent Therapist is a book of soundings, a jostle of voices that variously argue, remember, explain, justify, speculate and meander . . . Sons and lovers, wanderers, wonderers, stayers, leavers, readers and believers: ‘The biggest surprise of all is frequently that things and people really are as they seem.’
‘These are gripping narratives, with intriguing shifts of register, but they are also technically experimental and daring. Each sentence is weighed, poised. The intelligence with which Will Eaves handles language is modest and rare. The absent therapist is the listening reader to whom this compelling book is a fabulous gift.’
– Patricia Duncker
‘The whole book is like someone deeply charismatic and charming daring you not to find them insane. It’s wonderful.’
– Nicholas Lezard, Guardian (full review here)
‘The pieces in The Absent Therapist often resound with truth, whether the overheard voice is that of a plumber offering to redo another tradesman’s botched job (“I won’t charge you no extra. I’m already saving you money!”), a Londoner describing spanking in a gay club, or a businessman losing his listener’s interest by spouting jargon about bridge documents, tech guys and new gen stuff. The fragments range across continents – America, Africa, Australia – as well as classes, and many of them are clearly situated ... Others are decontextualised, and often these are the most arresting, either for their meditative quality or through a poetic suggestiveness which reminds us that Eaves is a poet as well as a writer of prose fiction.’
– Alison Kelly, Times Literary Supplement
‘I was gripped and awed by Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist, touching, addictive and unlike any other book.’
– Thomas Adès, TLS 'Books of the Year'
‘Will Eaves has written novels – but also poetry. And here, with The Absent Therapist, he seems to aim (and reside) somewhere between the two. These are short narratives, some just one line long, nothing over a page and a half; snapshots, overheard conversations, different voices huddling in around one another. There’s very little comfort from the huddle too …
The observations are startling – brilliant. And so often very funny. Eaves is able to mock and celebrate the truly bizarre, unique existence of the human being; that weird thing called family. How we can’t ever truly know what any one other person is thinking, and that thinking we might is often the biggest insult if not a mistake.
But he also allows himself space to simply make some great jokes, cold, harsh, hilarious … Sex is one of the preoccupations treated as merely a theme, albeit a recurring one. Eaves has a lot of fun using sex, or discussion of it, and around it, as background prop or foreground distraction. It’s sometimes the unspoken issue, his characters reveal so much about mindsets, their own, the author’s too – many of the pieces have a memoir feel to them – and yet sometimes we end up drawn to, or go back to revisit and understand the bits that were left out.
There’s also a lot of talk around why we’re here – and where, in fact, we are. And it’s here, distilling heady philosophy and both dressing up and unpacking obfuscations that we get to see Eaves’ great poetic strengths and sensibility.
… there are several read-aloud moments, many of the pieces excerpt well. But the accumulative power of this book – of taking it all in, seeing not a hair out of place, sensing a strange and powerful madness within and around the writing and selecting of these pieces, the placement – is when you really see the magic. The writing is technically flawless, vivid, cruel and wonderful. It’s so often as good as it gets.
Whatever this is – whether novel/anti-novel or just a twisted stop-start journey of nearly short-stories – it’s a mini-masterpiece. And it contains – or is barely able to contain and control – multitudes.’
– Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks
‘The Absent Therapist is perhaps the strangest and most beguiling fiction Will Eaves, poet and formerly arts editor at The Times Literary Supplement, has written yet. It’s an experimental novella that weaves together a host of vignettes and fragments into an elusive and often disarmingly funny whole ... Eaves writes with effortless fluency and charm, and despite the lack of an overarching narrative, this little book flows like a song. Animated by a Joycean love of words and oddments from the life of the mind, it's a chance for the reader to immerse herself in something extraordinary.’
– Sydney Morning Herald
‘It is always a joy to find a book that demands an intelligent engagement of the reader, and there is no spoon-feeding here … There is no obvious narrative thread or arc and the stories are all the more pleasing for that. Instead there is a drawing out of themes and motifs as each new personality arrives on the page … This collection would be a superb desert island choice – you would not get lonely with all those people to keep you company. Small enough to fit in your pocket, with enough food for thought to sustain you for weeks, and filled with the seeds of stories that you could grow into your very own forest.’
– Lucy Jeynes, Bare Fiction
‘The Absent Therapist is a slim book with no single plot, yet the author’s decision to call it a novel seems justified: these confluent streams of consciousness amount to a narrative in prose where every comma is vital for the flow to run as it does. The fluidity with which these miniatures merge puts you in mind of Eaves’ poetry, present in his other novels too, but never in such a distilled form … The voices you hear give the impression of having been selected with some degree of randomness — “a story worth telling”, the author says, can be found where you least expect it — but their arrangement is precise down to the last dropped aitch. There are a plumber and a prince, teachers and hustlers, angry young men and batty old women. The subjects are just as varied and include computers, learning disabilities and “the point of boxer shorts”. Computers, “too connective [and] tyrannically social”, keep cropping up in the novel as one of its themes related to emotions: real, fake, artificial and inborn. There are subtle points on the human condition and the way it is perceived. The narrators don’t pretend to have more emotional baggage than the man in the street, and the author, serving as their amanuensis, doesn’t pretend to know it all either. His recipe for understanding people is: “If you want to know what someone’s like, don’t, do not ask. Leave them be.” This is your only chance to see and hear – overhear, if you are lucky – for yourself.’
– Anna Aslanyan, 3:AM
‘One of the book’s earlier monologues refers to someone talking as if “addressing an ideal person, a sort of absent therapist”. That’s Eaves – ears pricked, mouth closed. (The book’s last words, spoken by the closest we get to an author figure, refer to the sort of understanding “which made me a writer”.) Later on in the book, another character describes their younger self in a way that recalls this ideal figure – and also the novelist as embodied by Eaves and [Rachel] Cusk; not a confessor or tour guide but a conductor, a medium, at once intuitive and impersonal, receding from the stage to let the characters and reader work things out between themselves: “I didn’t have an identity and I didn’t want one. I was neither boy nor girl, male nor female. I was just a pair of eyes, a nose, some ears. Receiving the world, the brilliant blue sky, people talking above me.”’
– Leo Robson, New Statesman