The novel cure: Urban ennui

Literary prescriptions for modern ailments

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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Urban ennui

Cure: The Woman and the Ape by Peter Hoeg

Urban life can grind you down. Even if you're lucky enough to be affluent and well-housed, the daily sensual assault of people, traffic and tarmac can eat into your soul if you don't give yourself an occasional break. This time of year can be particularly wearing, devoid as it is of the relief that green leaves, birdsong and sunlight bring to our battered senses.

Your antidote is to inhabit the world of Erasmus, the displaced anthropoid who finds himself in the London of Peter Hoeg's arresting The Woman and the Ape. A highly intelligent member of a previously undocumented simian species, Erasmus finds his way to the house of Adam Burden, an eminent behavioural scientist, where he seems destined to be subjected to a series of unethical experiments.

But when Burden's alcoholic wife Madelene turns her addiction to ethanol into a passion to save her new, hirsute friend, we are treated to a burgeoning interspecies friendship that promises to shape a new destiny for them both – and open Madelene's eyes to the city in a whole new way. Because as Hoeg filters the urban environment through the eyes of this wild but discerning ape, we see our carefully constructed world of streets, walls, and endless façades as he sees it: a series of subterfuges for keeping the untamed at bay.

Thus Madelene's eyes – and ours – are opened anew. With the charismatic ape at her side, she relinquishes her chemical prison and discovers a marvellous clarity of vision that leaves her agog with excitement.

Break out of your urban daydream. Acquire ape-vision. Let Erasmus swing you down newly visible streets. With this novel under your (hairy) armpit, you might find yourself less in need of that daily six o'clock analgesic yourself.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);