• Deborah MB

'Gut' is good, and a wonder, too!

Giulia Enders’ Gut is a love song to knowledge, to fun, but above all, to the human digestive system and all its inhabitants. With a narrative voice which would be as engaging telling the wacky stories of holiday family dinners, Dr Enders takes the reader along in a journey of wonder. She is aided by her sister, Jill Ender’s illustrations, demystifying a guide which is, in essence, a medical anatomy textbook for the lay person.

The book is structured like a zoom, progressing from the whole of the digestive system, down to the organs in it, down to the elements making up the organs, down to the very microbial flora in our intestines. Even the more baffling concepts, such as zoological terms or names of bacteria, are taken apart, simplified, before being reincorporated in the narrative. In a way, it seems to emulate the intestine, reducing the parts for easy absorption; and it does so very effectively.

Not only does Gut entertain, it provides a solid background for medical concerns in a world made uncertain by popular pseudo-science. By the end of the book, enriched yoghurts and sauerkraut’s benefits, for example, can be understood, away from the frenzy of trends and advertising. I would venture to say that Dr Enders wanted her readers to reach the final pages with a gentler yet more conscientious approach to their diet, their life, their habits. Whether they do is, however, beyond reach of the pages.

Who would enjoy it

Gut is the kind of volume that appeals to people with interest in alternative views on health: it is light-toned as well as informative. It also covers a field which many shy away from, without transforming all situations into medical emergencies.

Additionally, it could appeal to someone who enjoys learning and academics without the drive to be an expert in the field. People with an interest in formal, scientific data who lack in the specific knowledge so they appreciate a thorough, referenced introduction.

Who should give it a pass

I think the first group which should leave this book back on its shelf are those with eating disorders. By its very subject matter, Gut draws great attention to the different aspects of food consumption, which may increase stress around the theme for the above group. Similarly, I would not recommend it for those with hypochondria or long-lasting pre-existing conditions. Great as the information is, it does get the reader thinking about all they have eaten, illnesses they may suffer as consequences, and so forth. Therefore, I would dissuade such readers, or at the very least hope they pick it up with the support of someone who can keep them grounded in the reality outside their abdomens.

Finally, it may not be a good option for those looking for an exhaustive treatise on the digestive system, all its concerns, its maladies, or their treatment. It is not intended as such; hence it would be frustrating for those expecting it to be so.

Conclusions and suggestions

It is clear, I am certain, that I have thoroughly enjoyed Giulia Ender’s work. I received Gut from a friend with an alternative approach to health. I feared snake oil pandering, yet was treated to a widely researched, very factual exposition which was a pleasant surprise. The fact that some of the similes and expressions made me guffaw came as an added bonus.

Gut is an excellent teaching tool, and Dr Enders an engaging communicator. Her passion and wonder at the marvels of the human body come alive off the page. The style is patient, detailed, simple, without becoming patronising or overly repetitive. As a former teacher, I can attest to the difficulty such balance requires. Only in very specific sections does the tone stall, maybe as a result of frustration attempting to cover such a vast topic in few words; or perhaps due to limited personal interest of the author in a particular aspect of the material.

This is the sort of volume one would like to see emulated in a series, though it would be clearly a bad idea: the style is very personal, and it is doubtful that Dr Enders is as passionate about other elements of anatomy.

In fact, my suggestions are related to this very idea. Always keep in mind:

- Your style must hold true through time. When writing a book, it is important to be aware of one’s style. Very rarely is a book expected to be on its own, and certain styles are more easily replicated than others.

- Not everyone has the same sense of humour, and a jaunty tone can soon become jaded.

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