Ask Graham by Graham Norton, and the reader with a bodice-ripping addiction

Ask Graham NortonRating: 3 stars

Bluntly telling it like it is as only gay comedian, chat show host and now agony uncle Graham Norton can, with wit and wisdom. Ask Graham is a collection of letters and responses from Norton’s column in the very middle class and conservative Daily Telegraph. If you’re looking for a gentle agony aunt who sensitively guides you to the solutions to life’s problems without judgement, turn back now. Not that he is ever mean to the genuinely vulnerable; he saves his mocking for the clearly stupid and those who’ve made diamond encrusted mountains out of simple, mundane molehills.

Bizarre problems do make an appearance, like the husband worried about his wife’s desperation for a boob job so ludicrous that she wanted to have one breast done, then furiously save money for the other months later. This next one I can sympathize with. A woman’s father had had a heart attack. She rushed to the hospital only to discover his mistress and second family in the waiting room with the children possessing the same names as her own. My grandfather did something similar. I have two uncles with the same name, slightly different spelling.

Ask Graham isn’t a book to be consumed in one sitting but many. Reading a few letters everyday whenever one has a spare five minutes is an amusing way to spend those moments too short to do anything useful.

I’ve been a Norton fan for many years, watching the gleefully rude So Graham Norton later poached from Channel Four by the BBC and toned down, and reading his first autobiography So Me. Delightfully, he writes like he talks on TV. There’s never a dull moment. His language is clear and concise – no waffle here.

I’ll leave you with the woman unhappily addicted to bodice-ripping romances.

Dear Graham,

I’m an addict. No, it’s not drink, drugs or (sadly) sex, but all those cheap, bodice-ripping novels that clog up the shelves of supermarkets and public libraries. Even though I have a perfectly good brain, I just can’t read enough of the kind of books you cannot be seen with in public.

As with eating too many vanilla cupcakes or drinking one to many Cosmopolitans, I always feel a bit disillusioned and tawdry the next day, ashamed of myself for having such pathetic illusions and for being led astray by such nonsense. I know it should be a simple matter of marching towards the Classics section and picking up something by Dostoyevsky, but I always get ambushed by those marshmallowy covers.
How can I beat my addiction?

Tara A, Middlesex

Dear Tara,

So you’re attracted to the wrong sort of books? There is no shame in that. We have all chosen to watch an episode of Hollyoaks over The Sopranos, but to do it constantly is, I suppose, a bit of a waste of time.

Why don’t you upgrade to the top of your genre? Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper will, I’m sure, satisfy your addiction. Then move on to Maeve Binchy. Next try lowering the sugar content with a few Barbara Vines and, before you know it, you’ll soon be wading through all the titles from Richard and Judy’s book club.

The other thing you could do is to put down the book with a picture of Fabio dressed as a pirate on the cover and leave the house. Maybe the you could run your hands through the coarse dark hair of a real man while your heart beats wildly and you feel the rain soaking through your thin cotton dress.

You may get arrested for attempted rape, but at least you won’t have turned into a crazy old lady who smells of lavender.

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