The Comfort Book by Matt Haig: A hug in 260 pages
When I picked up The Comfort Book this summer, at an unremarkable Waterstones in Gatwick Airport, I had very high expectations.
Earlier in the year, after recommendations from friends over the years, I had read Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, two of Matt Haig’s best sellers. For those who don’t know him, Matt is a journalist and a novelist, who writes books both for adults and for children; his books for adults are emotionally nuanced, raw, and will strike a chord in anyone’s heart, and his children’s books, well, I’ll read them next!
His latest, The Comfort Book, does exactly what it says on the tin; it gives you comfort, page after page. When navigating turbulent times, either at a personal or global level, one must find anchors and this book is one of them. Let me flick through the pages with you and tell you about my favourite poems, recipes, short stories, and quotes.
Among the incredible short stories in the book, Matt writes of being lost in a forest as a child and the peace that ultimately came with being lost in nature; the true (!) story of the teenage daughter of zoologists that survived a plane crash and wandered alone for days in the Amazon forest, armed only with the knowledge that her parents imparted on her, and then the story of a castaway who drifted for 76 days with only his thoughts to keep him company.
What transpires from these stories? A connection with nature, peace in the midst of despair and an overwhelming appreciation for life that could not have happened had the tragedy not occurred.
What about the recipes, you ask? Food is fuel for the soul and sometimes only hummus or peanut butter on toast is enough - so Matt has given us his fail-proof instructions. If these don’t have you intrigued about what can be so special about hummus or peanut butter on toast, maybe read his one-liner page about the magic ingredient that is pasta.
Let me share another gem with you. The unforgettable story of Nellie Bly tells you about the life of a 19th century orphan who became a journalist, out to change the way women’s mental asylums were run, visited a leper colony in China and then met Jules Verne (after herself going around the world in only 72 days). So much for dreaming small!
Weaved through the book you’ll find so many lines on the present moment, acceptance, and hope. Paradoxically, alongside an appreciation for the present, Matt Haig focuses on the ever-changing dynamic of life, as a sequence of frames that together create our narrative.
The Comfort Book is a hug in 260 pages, written by someone that from the deepest despair of mental illness, has carved deep knowledge on what is like to be human. There is some potentially triggering content — stories of pain and illness — but I’d urge you to keep reading it, as there is always a note of hope in a couple of paragraphs’ time.