PROFILE £9.99 (228pp) (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Talk to the Hand, by Lynne Truss

A manners manifesto with a note of apology

Lynne Truss's new book,
Talk to the Hand - The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or six good reasons to stay at home and bolt the door), is a curious work, part social commentary, part lament, and part battle cry. It seems fitting that an author whose last book concerned itself with one set of Ps and Qs should progress smoothly to the other sort. We were taught at school - it seems incredible now - that an educated person whose grammar leaves a lot to be desired is also likely to be lacking in moral energy. Perhaps Truss was taught the same.

Talk to the Hand is a melancholy book. The subject of rudeness is more stimulating to the author than the subject of good manners. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Truss's preoccupation with correct grammar seemed recherché and altruistic. In fact, that book is really the story of a love affair.

Objecting to other people's rudeness, as the author does again and again here, does not carry the same panache. There is less joy in the writing than in all her earlier works, although one or two flights of fancy are worthy of a top-class comedian. In a slightly random aside about people-who-need-people being ultra-lucky, she paints a little picture of the alarm that employees feel when a sighing and clingy person enters a casino or a betting-shop, because there's just bound to be an enormous run on the tills.

Truss is so aware of the pitfalls of writing such a book that it is extraordinary that she completed the task. She admits that people who concern themselves at length with the behaviour of others are often conventional and conservative - and no better than they ought to be themselves.

She refers to her book as a "rant" and it is full of apologies, self-directed put-downs and get-out clauses. "It's not worth saying" and "It's already been said" is how she frames the points she makes. Perhaps because of this ambivalence, Talk to the Hand suffers from an awkwardness of tone. Truss states in her introduction that "The author apologises for the high incidence of the word 'Eff' in this book... If you don't Effing like it, you know what you can Effing do. (That's a joke.)" I didn't quite feel that it was.

Yet Truss's concern for the morality of our everyday interactions is thorough and affecting. She never tries to simplify this thorny subject, with all its political and moral dimensions. She bemoans the intolerance of our "Eff Off" society while celebrating the appeal of intolerance. Truss questions society's obsession with safeguarding its personal space, while commenting on how shocking intrusions into this can feel.

She deftly names and shames the sheer brutality of much conventional English politeness and her dissection of English reticence is genuinely stylish. She also writes with insight about the breakdown in the distinction between private and public codes of behaviour.

Truss's conclusion - and she apologises for the lack of surprises - is that good, imaginative, well-mannered behaviour makes the world a better place. Well, yes.

Some other findings are less reliable. She writes: "If we looked inside ourselves and remembered how insignificant we are, just for a couple of minutes a day, respect for other people would be an automatic result." It seems to me that personal feelings of insignificance never did much to enhance human behaviour.

The book's surprisingly moving ending evokes a fantasy world where everything is done kindly and with consideration. It reminded this reader of Truss's great gift for comic fiction. Perhaps a fictional world where good, thoughtful, slightly obsessive characters triumph over their rough, unmannerly counterparts might have brought Truss's points home with more verve.

It is also regrettable that Truss chose not to lay out a plan for how people really ought to behave in social situations with a bank of gritty and acute bullet-points for her readers to relish. Her reasons for this omission, she claims, are the degree of exposure her own conduct would attract. "Famous author in shock neighbour-blanking horror incident," is the sort of criticism she dreads.

Talk to the Hand does occasionally read like a thank-you letter extended ambitiously to the second side of the notepaper. Yet it addresses an important subject with intelligence and humour, and for that we should certainly be grateful.

Susie Boyt's latest novel, 'Only Human', is published by Review

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own