Sunday, January 08, 2006

Being the new year everywhere seems full of sensible and not so sensible advice on improving life, health, fitness and more. Although almost inevitably doomed to failure the media is permeated with this optimism. An interesting consideration of alternative therapies and treatments is presented in 'The Various Haunts of Men', Susan Hill's debut crime fiction novel. It is typical of the modern British crime novel, although compelling nevertheless, and set in the small village of Lafferton. Following in the Ruth Rendell/PD James tradition a small police force contend with an anonymous and frightening serial killer. Throughout the novel characters are searching for solutions to the problems in their own lives, and a myriad of cameo appearances choose between a conventional, traditional medical approach to their problems, and a non traditional course of treatment. The narrative does not force a view either way, and instead demonstrates benefits and detriment to both approaches. The sense is that there is something lacking in both approaches, and perhaps the best way forward would be to combine traditional and non traditional methods of treatment. One particular character, a cancer sufferer, benefits from the holistic approach provided by healers, and alternative practitioners, but it is clear nevertheless that only conventional medicine can save her from a frightening and painful fate.

Obviously, as a crime novel, this theme simply provides the setting for a compelling study of a psychopath. Although the identity of the murderer remains hidden for much of the novel (and I won't spoil it by revealing it now) his thoughts and motivation are revealed through his own first person narrative addressed to his mother. The overwhelming impression the book leaves is one of loneliness - many of the characters, and indeed the killer's victims, remain separate and aloof from other people, forming friendships and relationships only on professional ground, and returning home alone and dreaming of different life.

An article from Jerome Burne in yesterday's times discusses a new theory which suggests that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an evolutionary tool developed in order to prepare women for pregnancy. He notes the striking difference that women are four times more likely to suffer SAD than men. Various differences between the effects and pattern of SAD and clinical depression have led researchers to speculate that the slow down in winter occurs because this season is the best time for women to become pregnant with spring/summer the best time to give birth. It has now become noticeable because of our modern loss of touch with the seasons. SAD is a condition about which conventional medicine remains sceptical, and perhaps if it is a condition predominantly suffered by women, which responds more effectively to non-medical treatment it is no wonder. It is reassuring to hear that research is focussing on alternative treatments and explanations.

Less reassuring is the news that, thirty years on from the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, if the situation continues at the same rate of change, it will be 200 years before there is equality between men and women in Parliament. This is an unbelievable statistic, and with the current apathy about sex discrimination there appears to be no reason why this rate of change should increase. Equality in Parliament and the judiciary is fundamental to ensure that women's voices are heard, yet only 9 percent of the senior judiciary is female, and there is famously only one 'law lady' - Dame Brenda Hale. Social diversity is a fundamental goal in these areas but is not being achieved. The situation is even worse for women belonging to ethnic minorities, and although the government claims to be aiming for much greater diversity these aims are not being met fast enough. Have a look at and for more information.


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