Sunday, 9 August 2015

The interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld - Book Review

This is a very clever book in both concept and execution. 
The concept is to set a classic detective novel within the historical context of the week-long visit of Sigmund Freud's to New York from 29 August 1909. This plot opens up the possibility for discussion of Freud's psychoanalytic theories through discussions between his inner circle, which includes Jung. An interesting recurrent discussion is of Freud's interpretation of Hamlet (Is his inaction being driven be Oedipal desires?). 
As far as its execution is concerned, the novel stands on its own feet as a murder mystery. It has many of the twists and turns associated with the genre and some excellent high tension scenes that I suspect authors include in the hope that the book will be picked up by Holywood. 
However, it is the underlying concept of this novel that is its genius: for the whole plot (and to some extent its resolution) is based on one of Freud's most famous cases (the case of Dora = Ida Bauer). Thus, like newspaper crosswords, this mystery can be solved on two levels: at a simple level by the uninformed reader by following the detectives as they uncover the clues; or at a cryptic level by Freud aficionados who will see a familiar narrative unfolding. 
This is the best kind of historical novel as it weaves together fact with imagination in order to speculate on what the protagonists might have thought, said and done. In this case, Rubenfeld explores the tensions and changing relationship between Freud and Jung which ultimately led to their 'break' in 1912. 
One of the things I always ask myself when I reach the end of an historical novel is, how much of it was true? Jed Rudenfeld must have read my mind and helpfully adds an 'author's note' to distill the fact from the fiction. An entertaining and informative read.

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