If there’s one thing I find you can rely on it’s that Notting Hill Editions books are going to be an interesting read! I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of their releases over the years and whether it’s Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, George Perec, Ian Nairn, A.A. Milne or A.J. Lees (to name just a few I’ve read), you’re guaranteed an interesting and stimulating read! Their latest release, “Midlife: Humanity’s Secret Weapon” by Andrew Jamieson, is no exception in that it’s a fascinating and thought-provoking look at a condition which is specific to humans – the Midlife Crisis.

It’s fair to say that this has become something of a cliche, usually exemplified by men buying sportscars and having affairs, or women having nervous breakdowns and taking up with toyboys. However, as Jamieson points out, humans and killer whales are the only mammals who have a post-reproductive life that lasts longer than their reproductive life. In the case of the whales, it can be clearly seen that they have a value in helping find food for the group; it’s not so clear why humans live so long, particularly with the attitudes of the young towards the old… So psychotherapist Andrew Jamieson sets out to explore the knotty topic, taking in a lot of great thinkers as well as his own personal experience on his journey.

Our middle years can be difficult ones; having the first part of your life making your career, defining yourself, perhaps settling down and having a family, you suddenly find yourself doubting the value of all of that. Your children grow up and move on, your relationships seem stale and you long to be young again. These feelings can be completely debilitating and bring about the ending of marriages, abadonment of careers and mental illness. Society fetishizes the young with older people (particularly women) made to feel redundant. Jamieson tackles the issue by exploring his own midlife turmoil and that of those close to him, as well as his patients; he draws much of his analysis of the subject from the life and work of Jung who went through a massive midlife crisis of his own.

Jungian theory is not something I’ve really come across before, but Jamieson explains the subject clearly and concisely, as well as relating Jung’s experiences and the complexities of his relationship with Freud. The midlife crisis is a kind of rite of passage through which we need to pass to reach a settled place in our later life; there we’ll have the knowledge and the wisdom we’ve learned to steer our tribe through difficult situations. Intriguingly, Jamieson reveals several times where prominent figures have proved crucial to our species, from leading America safely through the Civil War, via discovering radioactivity to defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those elder humans have passed through their crisis and gained the gravitas to lead, discover and advise; and Jamieson actually believes that our species may be hitting its own mid-life crisis at the moment. Whether we can get through it remains to be seen…

The sections of the book where Jamieson explores the various triggers for these crises was fascinating, and he and his patients often have to dig deep (right back to issues with infant bonding) to pull out what’s troubling people and work through it. It’s obviously a valuable therapy to have, but I did feel that perhaps the majority of people are not going to have access to this. With waiting lists as they are, getting therapy from the NHS is not going to be a quick process, and many of us cannot afford to go private. So I guess a lot of people will have to find their own way to work through their crisis…

“Midlife” was a fascinating book, full of much that was new to me, and I really enjoyed its mix of history, biography and science. Alas, I am probably to be regarded as past my midlife crisis now (I think I had it when the Offspring grew up and I suddenly realised I’d lost a big chunk of my life to child rearing!); but I wish I’d had access to this book at the time because I do feel it would have offered me much wisdom and guidance. As it is, if you’re reaching the point of your own middle years, you might find Jamieson’s book quite useful… ;D

(Review book kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)