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Patrick Madden’s Sublime Physick: A Luscious Tonic for What Ails You (and a Restorative Besides)

By Kellie Purcill

Sublime PhysickWHY, I asked myself in the first 10 pages of Patrick Madden’s Sublime Physick, why I am I reading about someone’s history with spitting and being so entertained by it?  Within a couple of more pages, I decided not to think about the why, but to enjoy the madness, the brilliance, and the side gallops while following the rumpus of the story.

Madden takes one-off thoughts (seconds wasted in an elevator), unusual events (the visit of a respected author), the everyday actions not normally focussed on (kissing a spouse), a whole gamut of usually unnoticed moments and builds essays around them.  Essays with humour,

Backward and forward, forward and backward (drawkcab dna drawrof niaga). (p. 207)

with contemplation, with supporting quotes, historical tidbits and witty asides that drag you in, dazzle, and make you look at the ordinary moments of life as anything but “every day”.

Since then, I have kissed Karina and she has kissed me thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times, sometimes quickly as one of us takes leave, sometimes in prolonged passionate pecks, oscillating osculations (thank you, thesaurus!). I wish now that I had timed our smooches, the better to aggregate them here, but suffice it to suspect that across our seventeen years, I have been locked to her lips, and she to mine, for weeks and weeks (and sleepless weeks, at that). And of course, a kiss does not happen only in the moments of contact.

The close, luscious, devouring, viscid melting kisses of youthful

ardour in my wanton age left a sweetness upon my lips for

several hours after.

Montaigne, “Of Smells”

And for years after, in memory. Not a bad way to spend time, to build a life beyond that distant afternoon on top of the world when our lips first met. (p. 83)

In good conscience I can’t wax lyrical about his book, because in doing so would be denying you the pleasure of your own discoveries within Sublime Physick’s pages. I have favourite stories from its pages (the elevator musings!) yet it is on reflection – even well after reading them – that they gain further heft and delight. Sublime Physick is a wonderfully meaty collection of essays and personal stories, with the incentive to challenge yourself to pay attention to each offering, suck the juices from the words, savour the situations and then find the scents Madden shares already drifting through your own life.

Of course, this is what all good literature should do: make visceral the pains and joys of others, stir in us, as we sit in our chairs, our eyes glancing across lines of letters, some grand emotion beyond what we might find even in living. (p. 71)

If you are looking for something to cleanse your mental palate, to give some fizz or depth to your reading, or even a tonic to invigorate a writing slump, I recommend a draught of Sublime Physick as soon as possible.

Recommended for:

  • Those with a sense of humour and/or of the bizarre
  • Fans of footnotes, side trips, gallops through related paddocks and home again (then repeat)
  • Readers who often wonder how their plans went from A to megahertz
  • Writers of the personal essay persuasion
  • Explorers of the edge of reason, and trailblazers wherever they may be

Not recommended for:

  • Avoiders of essays (though this collection may change your mind!)
  • Germophobes (though if you skip the first chapter you should be safe)
  • Those who will follow the road most travelled thank you very much Mr Frost (though you’re missing out!)
  • Anyone about to undergo wisdom tooth removal (though, actually, that’d be fine as they could read it twice and enjoy it doubly as a result!)


About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

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