Monday, January 08, 2007

Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder (2006)

The note at the beginning of Jed Rubenfeld debut novel, The Interpretation of Murder, reads:
In 1909, Sigmund Freud, accompanied by his then disciple Carl Jung, made his one and only visit to the United States, to deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The honorary doctoral degree that Clark awarded him was the first public recognition Freud ever received for his work. Despite the great success of this visit, Freud always spoke, in later years, as if some trauma had befallen him in the United States. He called Americans 'savages' and blamed his sojourn there for physical ailments that afflicted him well before 1909. Freud's biographers have long puzzled over this mystery, speculating whether some unknown event in America could have led to this otherwise inexplicable reaction.
These historical facts become the springboard for Rubenfeld's crime/thriller. Set in Manhattan in 1909, Stratham Younger, a disciple of Freud, hosts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung's visit to America for Freud's lecture series. Whilst there, a series of murders on women take place where one of them accidentally survives but suffers from amnesia and vocal paralysis caused by her trauma. Stratham Younger is drawn into the events because of his psychoanalytic skills and on the recommendation of Freud that he do so. What follows is a plot with many twists and turns and tons of surprises. The book is interesting on a number of levels. It provides an introduction to Freud's theories within the framework of a narrative - Freud and his disciples engage in conversations over various aspects of psychoanalysis as the case proceeds. There is also some fascinating historical information on Manhattan at the turn of the century, including the construction of the famous bridge - many of which have a bearing on the crime under investigation. In addition, we learn about the developing tension between Freud and Jung who later separated from Freud and developed his own psychoanalytic theories. These elements are what make The Interpretation of Murder worth reading. The plot is acceptably developed, if at times rather convoluted, but the author's weaving of fact and fiction together and what we learn transcends some of the less developed aspects of the narrative. For example, Freud is marginalised in the story - it would have been good to have his character more involved in the main plot. Overall, though, a good read that hopefully is a sign of an interesting new author. Related Links

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