Russell Brand’s diagnosis of the contemporary human predicament, as expressed in vlogs, standup and writing, seems inarguably right – that we are deluded into thinking that getting what we want makes us happy. His 2014 book, Revolution, explored how this delusion has trapped us in an unfulfilling consumerist system, while his next, Recovery (2017), a personal take on the 12-step programme, identified that the compulsive pursuit of satisfying desires can turn into an addiction. “But what does the wanting want?”, Brand asks with his trademark playfulness in its successor, Mentors.
In this compact book with a huge heart, Brand suggests that the “wanting” wants to find meaning, love and connection, and that a “chain of mentorship” can help towards a solution. He introduces us to eight of his own mentors, reviewing his relationships with them and reflecting on how they have helped him in different areas of his life. There are fellow recovering addicts, therapists, spiritual guides, a martial arts instructor, a comedian. For Brand, a mentor is someone who “can guide you to the frontiers of your self” and unlock “the potential person that we can become”. Indeed, the book is self-consciously a hero’s journey, from lost youth to mentee to mentor and father.
One area in which Brand has developed in recent years is in terms of his education. Instead of writing My Booky Wook 3, Brand tried to do something important with Revolution, but it lacked focus. It was a book about everything – including, in passing, how to create a new kind of society. And it had seemingly been written by everyone: beat poet, standup comic, self-help guru, social sciences flim-flammer, Frank Butcher. Recovery was marginally tighter. But Mentors is altogether more mature. It has a more modest scope. It is written in a consistent voice. Gone are the garbled, irreverent references to canonical thinkers: Brand has outgrown the need to react to them. He seems to have learned to slow his mind down.
There are occasional irritations. Vocabulary is in places needlessly obscure (“prognathic”, anyone?) or misused (“inhere” is a repeat offender), and at times the poetry is overstretched beyond sense. Some of the content alienates. Brand writes: “You know when someone says, ‘Come and stay at our ashram in southern India’?” No, actually. And with an obliviousness that was highlighted in a recent interview in which his lack of familiarity with the more hands-on aspects of childcare became apparent, he says that “all my mentors have floated into my life, like celestial beings”. But unlike Brand, you may not be able to maintain two therapists, an acupuncturist and a personal relationship with an Indian guru. Also, is Jordan Peterson really “irrefutably persuasive”?
But these distractions are more than compensated for by many touching personal confessions and real, if not wholly original, insights. Among them is an acknowledgment that failure can elevate you, because it gives you a vantage point from which you can help others as a mentor, and because not getting what you want can inspire you to search for meaning.
• Mentors: How to Help and Be Helped by Russell Brand is published by Pan Macmillan (£12.99). To order a copy for £11.43 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99