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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine