Monday 8 March 2010

Book review : Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe - Tanith Carey

Having read and reviewed How To Be An 'Amazing Mum' When You Just Don't Have The Time last year, the name Tanith Carey is in my mind synonymous with brilliant, down-to-earth child-rearing advice. The title of her latest book, Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe - Words of Wisdom from the Golden Age of Agony Aunts, therefore left me feeling a bit nonplussed but, charmed by the retro cover and quirky title, I was keen to dive in.

I said in my previous review that Tanith's 'Amazing Mum' book would be ideal reading matter to be kept next to the microwave or the toilet, and this book is the same. That is in no way derogatory, it just means that it is divided into very short paragraphs and snippets that can be easily dipped into, however little time you may have. That's great news for anyone without the time or energy to sit down with a huge novel but who would like some light and above all entertaining reading.

The blurb on the back of the book says that "Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe harks back to a time when agony aunts played a pivotal role in our society, advising men and women on love, sex, relationships, and other taboo subjects." As would be expected, there are some laughably prudish replies and extremely naive questions about matters of the heart, some of which will make the hackles rise on any self-respecting women, even if she isn't a feminist. A couple of hilariously ridiculous pieces of advice that stuck in my mind were the lady who should take a tin opener to work in her quest for love because men can't resist the opportunity of opening tins with a tin opener or the lady who should skip backwards repeatedly in order to get a bigger bust ! - who needs plastic surgeons ?!

As the agony aunts' replies are given in chronological order from the 1850s to the 1960s, the book gives a fascinating insight into changing mentalities and the way women's place in society has gradually changed. It's interesting to see that many of the concerns are still applicable to women of today, however much our social status may have changed !

About a third of the way into the book, I did worry that it would start to become slightly repetitive but the letters then moved into new categories, covering such topics as childcare (whatever you do, do not ever play with your baby, you'll get him overexcited !), personal appearance and acceptable leisure pursuits. Some of the beauty advice is hilarious, such as repeatedly pinching your nose to correct an upturned nose or squishing your fingers into tapered thimbles to get delicate slim fingers ! But is it really any worse than some of the things, surgical or other, that women put up with today to get the body they desire ?!

Despite the very strait-laced, prudish answers given by the agony aunts of the past, they don't beat around the bush when it comes to putting their readers in their place. As Tanith explains, "This book is a slap in the face for everyone accustomed to the politically correct advice of today". I bet many modern day agony aunts would love to call some of their readers shameless harlots or tell them their poetry stinks !

It's a great book, both as a glimpse into the lives of women in days gone by and also for sheer entertainment value. Is there anything that Tanith can't write about in an engaging, entertaining way ?!

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

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