Thursday, October 6, 2011
Author: Jed Rubenfeld
Genre: Historical fiction; mystery, 1900's NYC
Publisher: Picador (Henry Holt & Co.)
Pub. Date: May 8, 2007
Author Jed Rubenfeld (who happens to be husband of the infamous Tiger Mom, Amy Chua) wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on Sigmund Freud and studied Shakespeare at Julliard. (This is all per the author bio in the book). In The Interpretation of Murder, Rubenfeld mixes these two topics to create a 1900's murder mystery in New York City revolving around a real life mystery involving Freud. Apparently, in 1909, Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis and its theory of oedipal complexes, spent a week in America. He never returned, and he henceforth referred to Americans as savages and criminals. Rubenfeld imagines what could have occurred and mixes fact and fiction into an atmospheric tale of murder and psychoanalysis.
On the day that Freud arrives in America along with his colleagues Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi, a woman is murdered at the Balmoral hotel in Manhattan. Not long after, another young woman, Nora Acton, is attacked in a similar manner but manages to survive. But her loss of voice and momentary amnesia prevents her from telling who the attacker was. The narrator, Stratham Younger, an American follower of Freud takes on Ms. Acton as a psychoanalytic patient so he can cure her "hysteria" to ultimately help solve the muder.
There really was a lot that went into this book, and I can really appreciate that.. Despite having to study Freud, Jung, and Ferenczi to some extent in school, I really don't know much about them. Knowing who they are and what they were about but not knowing so many other details made the reading slightly frustrating only because I didn't know what was fiction and what wasn't. I suppose it's not really any different than any other historical fiction, but maybe other books that are placed further back in history and who are so much further removed from my knowledge don't matter as much to me. I don't know. But anyway, it was neat to read about the psychoanalysts' view on the events that occurred in the book. Apparently, the character of Nora is based on the actual case study of a client Freud called Dora. The psychoanalysis provided for Nora in the book is actually that of the one Freud really did on Dora... and it's out there! Thanks goodness we have come further than that in the mental health field!
The mystery kept me involved throughout the book but then it became a little confusing for me in the end. There was a "feel" to this story that I don't know what to call. There must be a word or genre to describe it... you know the movie, Clue? It had that feel to me where each of the characters had their own little quirks. There were many characters all sort of running about in the story. And at the end when the mystery is solved, it's incredibly long and complex and the few characters involved basically explain how the whole thing went down. I don't actually prefer mystery novels like that, so the only other gripes I had with this book would be related to that.
Otherwise, I was definitely intrigued by the characters, and I liked the way Rubenfeld incorporated the analysis of Hamlet as well. In many ways, though this was an entertaining mystery, it was also a thought provoking book. I'm so glad the author included a lengthy author's note at the end to explain what, in fact, was truth and not. He also provided follow up information regarding the characters in the book. In addition to the psychoanalysts, many of the other characters were real as well!
Overall, there were things I liked and didn't like about the book so it gets an okay rating from me in terms of story. In terms of writing and research done by author, it was fantastic.