This latest book is beautifully written and for anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety, Haig’s descriptions are chillingly accurate. I’m just not sure how or why anyone decided to commission it in 2018... For Haig himself, it cannot have been an easy book to write, and for that I commend him. But it does, possibly, feel a little as if his publisher has goaded him into reliving his most difficult times to create a sequel to what turned out to be a popular mental health tome for purely commercial reasons. That is not to say that I believe Haig wrote it for commercial reasons. On the contrary, I think he truly believes he has something to say about the anxiety epidemic... It is highly likely that this book will end up being a summer bestseller. It’s just not for me.
Some people will be baffled by this book – and I suspect a few will be troubled by a love-hate relationship with Twitter quite as passionate as Haig’s. “Don’t hate-follow people,” he advises. “Do not seek out stuff that makes you unhappy.” Yet much of his advice about “How to exist in the 21st century and not have a panic attack” applies to all of us modern cavepeople. Notes on a Nervous Planet is generous, sensible and timely. Reading it will probably be good for your mental health. Especially if you leave your smartphone in another room.
Notes on a Nervous Planet is a self-help guide for the anxious, a vade mecum for neurotics made up of short, bitty chapters of personal anecdote and observation with headings such as, “What I tell myself when things get too much”, or “How to stop worrying about ageing”. But it is also a diatribe against gadgetry and digital technology — ever-cleverer mobiles, self-service checkouts, self-drive cars — which have become, says the author, instruments of psychological breakdown... Considering I heartily agreed with so very much of Haig’s thrust, what depressed me is that his book is such a scrappy, unpolished thing, with lists and jottings. Was the Canongate editor away at a trade fair, or on maternity leave? In the end, it degenerates into sheer babytalk:
“When anger trawls the internet,/ Looking for a hook,/ It’s time to disconnect/ And go and read a book.”