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Irrepressible: 12 principles for a courageous, resilient and fulfilling life, by Cathy Madavan

13 November 2020

Kevin Scully finds this advice on living fully overtaken by events

A BOOK takes a long time to come out. The idea, pitch, commissioning, with marketeers often involved, writing, editing, printing, and release. None of this can account for what may happen in the world. Through no fault of those involved in the process of the production of Irrepressible by Cathy Madavan, rarely has a book felt so foreign to events around us.

The good points first: it is an easy read, with three pages of gushing endorsements from individuals in charities, leadership programmes, and the conference circuit.

It is chatty, more recording what might be spoken than literary, and sets out 12 principles with titles that, the author admits, “were not created because they were snappy and memorable, although I hope they are”. It reflects much of the world worked by Madavan. She is a speaker on the business, coaching, and mentoring circuit, and it often feels as if we are in a hall where she is motivating the readers to do the best they can with what their lives present.

Each principle involves anecdotes, homely advice, some of it from the University of the Bleeding Obvious, with the odd Bible reference, which points readers to an assessment of their own life and times through questions at the end of each chapter. These are important: “I would love to encourage you to go back and spend time in the reflection questions if you have not already — they are undoubtedly the most potent pages of this book.”

There is a lot of “I”. Madavan uses the first person as other writers use “you”, a sadly feeble replacement for the French on, which becomes in English the somewhat pretentious “one”. We learn a lot about the author, her husband, Mark, their children, and her world, with quotations from others in the same fields.

I was reminded of a cartoon by the mystic Michael Leunig. A man in a bookshop has climbed the shelves of the Self-Help section. The ladder has fallen away, and he looks in despair as he falls backward with the books, realising that his effort is going to be smothered by an avalanche of impotent verbiage.


The Revd Kevin Scully is the Warden of the College of St Barnabas, Lingfield, and author of The Rest is Silence (Dwyer Editions, 2019).


Irrepressible: 12 principles for a courageous, resilient and fulfilling life
Cathy Madavan
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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