Book review: The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

It’s not easy to write a review of Matt Haig’s The Comfort Book. Not because it’s badly written, or dull or unoriginal. But just because it’s all so pleasant and reassuring, that there’s not a lot to say.

The book is ideal for the coffee table, the bedside table, or as a gift for friends. And I’m sure the publishers think so too. The front cover is particularly pleasing . I’ve considered it for a while now, and I’m fairly confident it’s an abstract image of the sun setting over the sea. It just begs to be wrapped in gold paper, topped with a silver bow and gifted to your nearest and dearest.

The blurb within the front cover suggests life changing contents. “Drawing on maxims, memoirs and the inspirational lives of others, these meditations celebrate the ever-changing wonder of living.” it boasts.

If you have any interest in mental health then I doubt there’s anything new to you here. But the familiarity of the content is calming. The book is easy to dip in and out of. The writing is accessible and requires little in terms of concentration.

About the author Matt Haig

Matt has been open about his struggles with depression – a depression so severe he’s previously contemplated suicide. He’s written a number of books on the theme of mental health, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact I have at least another two of his books upstairs in the towering pile I’m yet to read it.

He is a vocal, and outspoken advocate for men’s mental health, which is an area that still feels shrouded in shame. We know from the suicide rates that men are suffering, and Haig talks eloquently and openly about his own experience of depression. Hopefully he offers a hand up, and out, to other men.

The criticisms of Haig’s work

I am an occasional user of Twitter (@ohcecelia , please come and say hello!) and his writing encounters some criticism there. It’s said he has no qualifications in mental health. This is true, but an ability to express complex thoughts so they resonate with others is valuable, regardless of qualifications. His publication schedule seems relentless. Which makes critics wonder if he genuinely cares about mental health, or whether he’s simply found a cash cow.

Personally, I’m not bothered by either criticism. I don’t begrudge him his rollicking work ethic or his royalty cheques. Nor do I doubt his sincerity around the subject of men’s mental health.

But, he has been writing since 2015. And it’s now 2021. I believe it’s important to to hear a range of diverse voices around men’s mental health. Matt Haig is white, middle class, able bodied, neurotypical and The Comfort Book is his ninth publication. However reassuring Haig’s writing is, there are other authors out there who are just as talented and can lend another vital perspective.

As a starting point I recommend David Harewood who is an advocate on mental health for men of colour. He has an excellent website which is full of great resources, and his book, Maybe I Don’t Belong Here is available to pre-order now and out in September.