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The Incurable Romantic and Other Unsettling Revelations by Frank Tallis

The Incurable Romantic and Other Unsettling Revelations by Frank Tallis
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Frank Tallis is a clinical psychologist who has long been interested in the “link between romantic love and mental illness”, said Katie Law in the London Evening Standard. In his new book, he presents 12 heavily disguised case studies about patients who became besotted in extreme, often highly delusional, ways. One is Megan, a married barrister’s clerk who fell violently in love with her dentist while having her tooth extracted, convinced herself the feeling was mutual (it wasn’t) and stalked him so obsessively that he eventually fled to Dubai. Another concerns Ali, a husband who compulsively visits prostitutes (3,000 and counting) in order, Tallis concludes, to recapture the “thrill of being fallen in love with”. Tallis’s point is that we don’t take love seriously enough, said James Marriott in The Times. “We’re inclined to tease and ridicule the love-struck” in a way that we would never do with someone who is depressed. But romantic love can be a very serious affliction. “I have often found myself sitting in front of lovesick patients,” Tallis writes, “whose psychological pain and behavioural disturbances were equal in severity to the cardinal symptoms of a major psychiatric illness.”

Tallis may not always have solved the problems of his patients, said Christina Patterson in The Sunday Times, but “boy, does he know how to tell a story”. He peppers his tales with insights from his years as a therapist, from literature, art and evolutionary psychology, and he draws, too, on his personal experiences. (In a chapter about a paedophile who is in love with a six-year-old girl, he describes his own “fierce, animal love” for his second son.) The result is an utterly “gripping” work that, in its commitment to understanding the human condition, itself “feels, in fact, like an act of love”.