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
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game