* Prices may differ from that shown
I was given this as a gift a few months ago because the person knew I loved my crime thrillers and that I'm a psychology nut. The two combine well in this novel, and it's one I'd seen advertised a fair bit so I was looking forward to reading it for myself.
On the front of the book we're told that this is a 'million-copy bestseller', and that The Guardian thinks it's 'Spectacular... fiendishly clever'. It's always nice to see a bit of praise on the front to draw you in. The cover itself is quite simple and doesn't give too much away, just hints at the time in which the novel may have been set.
The Interpretation of Murder is based on some fact, or at least some of what's believed to be fact, and much fiction. We're thrown straight into the plot as Sigmund Freud arrives in New York from Vienna in 1909 for his first trip to the big smoke. Hoping to advance his theory and Psychoanalysis within America, there's some discussion of psychology amongst other things as expected. We meet his friends and colleagues, including Dr Younger, who is often at the forefront of this novel.
Alongside this is a parallel storyline of Nora Action, a young woman discovered tied up in her parent's bedroom of their house having been whipped. We learn of the murder of another woman that seems strikingly similar, who was strangled with a white tie.
With no clues at the scene, one thing leads to another and the Psychoanalytics are asked to help, in particular, the help of Dr Younger is enlisted. Why? Because Nora, obviously shaken from her ordeal, seems to have lost her voice since and the psychoanalysts have helped other overcome similar obstacles.
I won't give too much away except to say that the novel follows some key characters, though the web of individuals involved does grow and interweave. Having said that, I didn't find myself getting lost or confused by complexities, they served to make the novel more in depth and intriguing. As the story progresses, the investigation into the attempted murder and other murders continues, helped and sometimes hindered by Detective Littlemore, a man made out to be akin to the village idiot.
Various suspects and characters are interwoven, including the Banwell's and a Chinaman. We see a range of social classes and divides during the turmoils of the investigation, from working women selling themselves to the rich upper crusts. There are far more of the latter, due to the setting of the novel. What I loved the most, being both a Psychology and crime fan, was the interweaving of the two to forge an answer to a common goal; finding the killer. Reubenfeld drew upon fact and a superior imagination to create a deep, complex and compelling novel with several dimensions. Whilst I'm usually a fan of the Americanised crime thrillers set in modern day surroundings, I was eager to read this because of the psychological aspects. Because of my interest in the latter, I found the characters and material, including details on Freud's theory and Psychoanalysis in general prior to its eminent status in America, really interesting.
The book is laid out in such a way as to give us two main perspectives; a birds-eye view, and another from Dr Younger himself. I really liked this contrast and found it worked really well to keep things fresh and interesting.
I really enjoyed the psychological aspects and found much familiar to me. Even some names, including Carl Yung, put a smile on my face because it gave the book some grounding and familiarity.
I also liked the atmosphere that was built up; I really got the sense of being around the debutantes, involved in the social fractions and engrossed by the language. It just helped to make the book easier to get absorbed by, added to its realism and believability.
The paperback also includes the first chapter from his newest novel, The Death Instinct, along with a short epilogue and some author notes (detailing which aspects are based on truth, and which are fictitious.)
Overall, this is one I would recommend to crime thriller fans, psychology fans and just those who want something a little different to get absorbed into. It's wonderfully written, intelligent, witty and original, and worth the praise it's thus far received.
518 pages (excluding epilogue etc) over 26 chapters.
RRP £7.99, and worth every penny.
I feel like this book tricked me into reading it. For weeks it was jumping at me, throwing itself at me shamelessly, from the shelves of the numerous charity shops where I like to spend my Saturdays browsing. This is always a confusing sign; you have to ask yourself, 'Is this book in so many second hand shops because it was so popular that hundreds of people bought it, so of course a few will end up here,' or 'Was this book so bad that everyone who bought it almost immediately donated it to other poor readers?' I've not quite decided which bracket it falls into, and I must admit that there is one huge thing about this book that I am impressed with: despite not enjoying the experience of reading it, I have thought about, talked about, and pondered on many aspects of what I read many times since, which in my book is automatically a good sign. The next step is to write about it. Here goes.
To set the scene before I begin, this novel takes place at the turn of the twentieth century, and sees Sigmund Freud arriving by boat for his first and only visit to the United States. With a fascinating mixture of historical accuracy and the author's personal interpretation and invention, the reader is taken on a mystery tour surrounding the brutal rape and murder of a young high society girl in Manhattan. Another girl is similarly attacked, not killed, but suffers from muteness following her ordeal; Freud and his followers attempt to solve this mystery by use of psychoanalysis. The plot also deals with Freud's relationship with American and European 'thinkers,' with one of its aims being to hypothesise as to why Freud left the US and never returned.
When I turned the last page and closed the book, I breathed a physical and emotional sigh of pure and extreme relief. The brutality of the attacks made on the two women, which were described very technically and clinically almost, nearly made me stop before I'd really even begun. The way the author approached them came across as callous and without emotion; I felt like I was given no time to grieve what had happened, either as reader or through the eyes and emotions of another character within the novel. Everything happened without a mourning period which as a reader I realised I need.
The other big turn-off for me was learning about Freud's Oedipus complex theory (that children are innately sexually attracted to their parent of the opposite sex). Don't get me wrong, one of my biggest pleasures in reading a book is when it teaches me something, anything, about society, history, culture or geography. And Rubenfeld's explanation and exposition of Freud's studies and theories were certainly eye-opening and educational. I feel slightly closer to being able to perhaps one day take part in a discussion on psychology! What I mean by it being a turn-off was that it was very cleverly written in such a way that you are forced to consider his theories from a more positive point of view. He was, in my opinion, a highly intellectual yet deeply troubled man, who saw ugliness and horrific, sexual reasons behind patients' problems, where others would 'simply' see difficulty and deep-rooted pain. His attempts to help these people were admirable, but I didn't enjoy reading about why he thought people behaved the way they did. I am a girl of simple yet firm beliefs about human nature, and so I found it difficult to churn through and contemplate such complex and repulsive ideas.
Despite his obvious obsession with Freud, my respect and admiration for Jed Rubenfeld grew when I read the Author's Note after the close of the novel. Here I was almost more interested and entertained than I had been throughout the reading of the story. Rubenfeld explains the immense and intricate research he went into before writing his book. I am still bowled over by his dedication to his work. Details such as the position of buildings on particular streets in relation to other buildings and landmarks at the time were painstakingly researched so that they were as realistic as possible. It was fascinating to discover that lots of the characters really existed; their storylines altered slightly but nevertheless real people who were embroiled in thick plots of intrigue and mystery. It amazes me (someone whose research methods involve 'googling' or using Wikipedia) that someone can have such passion and interest in a small area of history and society that they can go to extreme and difficult measures to procure facts and anecdotes. Like I said, I love to learn through reading novels, and Rubenfeld certainly didn't let me down.
To finish, I find that I still don't know whether I like this book or not. I felt glad as the novel drew to a close that the resolution of the mystery was quite complex and therefore let me down gently; I realised that I had been sort of reading the book obsessively and was all caught up - I needed an ending that wasn't going to keep me hanging on. And normally a book that I obsess about and get caught up in would get a big thumbs up from me. But nevertheless there is something stopping me from loving this book. If it were not for my obsession with owning books (my dream of having a library of my own one day never fading far from view), I probably would have got rid of it straight after reading - too much grotesque description and abusive ideas and scenery, and too many incestuous theories and sexual psychology. Perhaps you will have to make up your own mind about this book - let me know!
As you can probably guess from the title of this book one of the major topics running through the book is murder. At heart this is a good old fashioned murder mystery, a "whodunnit" with a definite surprise when you finally realise who the villain is!
But this book is so much more than that. The Interpretation bit of the title refers to psychological interpretation of the murderer and victim. The story is set in 1909 during the visit of Sigmund Freud to America. As an expert in the field of memory recovery he is asked to assist a survivor of a vicious attack to regain her memories of the attack.
I dont like giving away spoilers so won't give away any details that are not on the cover of the book!
A young socialite is found strangled having been subject to a horrible attack with a whip! the next day a second victim is found, alive but wounded after a very similar attack. She has no memory of what happened to her or who did it!
The story then follows two main threads. Littlefield the detective brought in to investigate the murder follows physical evidence to try and uncover the identity of the killer. His story takes dangerous turns as he uncovers secrets that powerful people want to remain hidden.
Dr Younger - a follower of Sigmund Freud treats the surviving victim to try to help her remember what happened. He constantly seeks advice from Freud who is obsessed with Odoepal ideas and disturbing sexual ideas.
All the while are their lives and the lives of the survivor in danger?
Freud: Only ever made one trip to the USA as he was traumatised on his first visit. This book seeks to explain why - expect lots of psychological discussions and ideas - dont worry they are not too hard to understand.
Nora: The survivor of the attack, a 17 year old debutante with a great future. Beautiful and imaginative the reader is almost made to fall in love with her!
Younger: The young american psychologist - defers to Freud's ideas but then wants to strike out on his own.
The story flits between the different streams of the investigation and into the mind of the murderer for a while (without revealing who it is!) It is told in the third person so you are not biased towards any of the characters in particular!
ALthough there is some discussion of early 20th century psychological theories this is an interesting part of the plot but manages not to overwhelm the basic murder mystery plot.
There are even a couple of fledgling romances thrown in for good measure, just to lighten the tone. These are well placed and don't distract from the main story or feel too false - in fact I really thought that they added to the story as a whole.
The tale romps along at a good pace so that you are not left waiting for the next action for too long!
Shall we say that I did not see the end coming at all. I was really surprised about what had happened! If you guess early then you might not enjoy this book as much as I did but I just had no inkling of what was going to happen!
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The author had clearly reasearched clinical psychology and the period of history so that it seems set in he correct time period. I wasnt bored once and read the book cover to cover in about 3 days as I just wanted to know who had dunnit!
The Interpretation of Murder is one of those books you often see hanging around in charity shops. Clearly a popular title when it was first published, it has now become almost as ubiquitous in cut-price shops as The Da Vinci Code - a fate it does not really deserve.
The Interpretation of Murder bases itself around Sigmund Freud's first and only visit to American in 1909. There, he was scheduled to give a series of lectures, but something so dreadful happened that he refused to ever go to America again. What those events were no-one knows, but this book presents a fictional account of what might have been.
Actually, for all its trumpeting about having both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as characters, they play only a small role in the plot, appearing occasionally to add a few psychological insights. For the most part, the key characters are a young American psychologist, Stratham Younger and a police detective Jim Littlemore, investigating the murder of a young woman.
If one were being cynical, you could argue that Freud, Jung and the whole psychologist element has only been brought in to try and give an illusion of depth. Essentially, what we have here is a fairly simple murder-mystery tale. A woman is murdered and a detective is assigned to investigate the murder. He slowly uncovers a labyrinthine and complex conspiracy leading up to the death. Attempts to give it a veneer of intellectualism by bringing in psycho-sexual theories do add a little bit to the plot, but nowhere near as much as the author perhaps like to think.
Thankfully, this pseudo-intellectualism doesn't spoil the plot and does add at least something to it. You certainly feel as though you get to know the characters on a more intimate scale than in many books, because the analysis and detail provided in the text gives you a greater insight into their inner thoughts and feelings. That said some of the characters do rather feel as though they were created to fit in with certain psychological profiles that the book needed, rather than being more natural creations.
Don't let all this talk of psychology put you off, though, because at heart, The Interpretation of Murder is just a good old-fashioned murder-mystery. Rubenfeld proves himself a highly capable author in this, his first published effort. He sets up the story quickly and efficiently and writes in a simple, appealing and accessible way. There are regular cliff-hangers and new developments built in to keep you interested and, of course, lots of red herrings to throw you off the scent of who the murderer is. It's not actually that hard to work whodunit, but Rubenfeld proves so adept at piling layer upon layer of intrigue that even though the solution seems obvious, you will find yourself questioning your guess at times.
This is also a book which is as much about atmosphere as plot, and the author does an excellent job of re-creating the sights, sounds and smells of early twentieth-century New York. The city feels real and as alive as the main characters and it provides a fascinating backdrop for an interesting plot. You genuinely feel as though you are at a crucial point in the city's history and watch it grow into the place we know and love/hate today. It's clear that Rubenfeld has carefully researched 20th Century New York history and uses some of the facts surrounding its construction to his advantage, weaving them effortlessly into the plot. He does admit taking some liberties with chronologies and geography, but this really doesn't matter.
There are, naturally, some things which do matter. For a start, the book is too long. It's essentially a very simple story, but Rubenfeld drags it out for over 500 pages. You can't help but feel that some of this is padding. In particular, some of the conversations between the various psycho-analysts ultimately have little or no bearing on the main plot. The ending in particular is very dragged out. I guess it's supposed to be an effort to extend the suspense, but I found it aggravating. Towards, the end, I repeatedly found myself thinking "oh, just get on with it" - an impatience I rarely felt with the rest of the book. If this book is a journey, most of the fun is in actually getting there; the final destination (to continue the clumsy analogy) is rather an anti-climax.
The book also introduces too many characters, some of whom disappear for a long time, and then re-appear without warning. There were a couple of times when a character was suddenly mentioned and I actually had to stop reading whilst I tried to recall who they were and in what context we had last seen them. On one level Rubenfeld should be applauded for spoon feeding his readers; on another level, it can be just a little confusing to suddenly find a character reappearing seemingly out of nowhere!
There's also a slight problem with the main characters in that there isn't actually a "main character". The closest (through whose eyes we witness most of the events) is Stratham Younger, but occasionally, the focus shifts and he fades into the background whilst one of the others takes centre stage. Sometimes this shift takes place quite abruptly and can leave you feeling slightly disorientated for a couple of minutes whilst you adapt to this sudden change in emphasis.
For a first effort, though, there is much to commend Rubenfeld. He has a hugely readable style, an imaginative (if slightly over-blown) approach to plotting and a good sense of what makes for a strong narrative. He's certainly an author I'll be keeping an eye out for in future.
The Interpretation of Murder
Headline Review, 2006
Available new from Amazon from £5.19 or new from 1p.
© Copyright SWSt 2009
© Copyright SWSt 2009
After reading The Interpretation of Murder I cannot say it is the best book I have ever read, nor is the most compelling or well written but it is at least different.
The Interpretation of Murder tells the story of Dr Younger who meets Sigmund Freud when he arrives in New York. The morning after this meeting however a stunningly beautiful young girl is found tied-up and strangled in her penthouse apartment. Things however don't stop there as the following night Nora Acton, another young and beautiful heiress is found tied to a chandelier in her parents' home. Luckily however Nora is still alive but physically wounded and unable to speak.
It is not long before Freud and his followers, which include Carl Jung, Abraham Brill and Dr Younger, are enlisted to help Miss Acton recover her memory and name her attacker. This task however isn't as straight forward as it may first seem as, as well as Younger's attempts to uncover the attacker local coroner Hugel and a up-coming detective Littlemore are also undertaking their own investigation, with our without the Mayors help. What both parties discover though is definitely not what it first may seem and the web of intrigue, lies and scandal that they uncover leads them on a thrilling journey to the darkest places of the human mind.
This novel is certainly very different from anything I have ever read before. The blend of fictional characters, real characters, fictional tales and real-life theory give this book a real authenticity and in this way make it both entertaining and informative. Despite this however I somewhat struggled to get into the story. The prose are written well and the characters are on the whole believable some even likeable but the extent to which some of Freud's theories are described and the ever occurring Oedipus theory are for me just too much.
This is not to say however that the story told is not somewhat enjoyable it is just that it takes some getting used to, in fact a lot of getting used to, and the flicking of settings and characters makes this process a little harder than it could have been. Saying this however if you believe in the Oedipus theory (look it up if you are unsure what it is, I don't really wish to go into detail) or you are interested in psychological theory as a whole this book is definitely something you should read. If this doesn't sound like you it may still be possible that like me you may find some enjoyment in the novel but I wouldn't whole-heartedly recommend it.
On the whole therefore the novel is not something I would recommend to everyone. The story itself would have been more compelling had some of the theory been left out. As it is I feel the book can be quite heavy in places and won't be hankering to read it again for some time.
Interpreting murders, minds and mysteries
The Interpretation of Murder is the first novel from Jed Rubenfeld (see below) and was published in 2006. It won the Richard & Judy Book Club Best Read. I received the book as a gift at Christmas, and it came as a welcome break for me from reading John Rebus novels!
Although it is a novel - and therefore fiction - it is based around real events and at the end of the book is a section explaining which events in the book are real - and which are false.
The book is set in 1909, in New York. It begins with Sigmund Freud and his two European compatriots Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi arriving by steamboat into Manhattan Harbour. Awaiting their arrival is Stratham Younger, a fresh faced psychologist who has read, re-read and re-read again all of Freud's most famous works and has been waiting for this moment for, seemingly, his whole life.
On the books cover, it claims that it explains why Freud thought of Americans as "savages" - that is, filling in a gap in history that has never been filled by fact by a thrilling piece of fiction.
The book concentrates mainly on the relationship between Freud and Younger, although towards the end of the book there is an increasing amount of tension between Freud and Jung - a tale of jealousy.
There are mainly three storylines running throughout the book.
The main one, obviously, is the murder of two of New York's most beautiful, eligible heiresses within the space of 3 days. Throughout Stratham Younger joins one of New York's detectives, Jimmy Littlemore, and actually often outwits him! This storyline explores many different themes, including jealousy as well as corruption within the Police Force.
The second storyline is that of Nora Acton. She is another stunning heiress, who is attacked in the early pages of the book - and is so traumatised that she cannot speak of the ordeal. This is where Stratham comes in, trying to find out how previous events in her life could have made her so traumatised.
Finally, there is the issue of the Freudian Theory, or the Oedipus Complex (see below). This was both highly controversial at that time in America, and a lot of academics would do anything possible to stop it being broadcasted.
The book ends, as most novels do with a surprising twist, and one that you couldn't see coming.
Rubenfeld is the Professor of Law at one of the best known Universities in the world, Harvard. An expert on constitutional aw, criminal law and the First Amendment he has a keen interest in American history. At the time of writing, The Interpretation of Murder (still his only novel), has sold over 1m copies worldwide.
Perhaps Freud's best known work, his ideal of repressed sexual desire is called the Oedipus Complex and tries to explain that we all have suppressed sexual desires for our mothers and fathers. Make of this what you will!
My Opinion (on the book, not Freud's Theory!!)
I really enjoyed reading this book. It took a long time to get into and even by the fortieth or fiftieth page I was considering putting the book down. However, I had heard good things so I thought it was worth carrying on. How right I was! A deeply thought out, intriguing read was what I got for my perseverance! The three storylines twisted and turned until they all got bound together by Rubenfeld's exquisite skill and masterful writing. It is difficult to believe that this is his first novel, and I can't imagine it will be his last! The language is easy to understand, and the book also offers an insight into early 20th century America - something that Rubenfeld apparently went to great pains to recreate accurately.
I really enjoy the idea of the book being semi-true, and will certainly look for more books from this genre in the future.
I certainly enjoyed it, and wholly recommend it to the mature reader! It would appeal to anybody who is interested in a crime novel, but also anyone who has an interest in psychology and the works of Freud.
Prices and Availability
Available from £2.40 on Amazon marketplace
Thanks for reading
The latest book to fall off a supermarket shelf and in to my shopping basket (honestly they just jump off the shelves I dont pick them up at all, ever) was this debut novel by Jed Rubenfeld. The cover has printed on it that it was a winner at the 2007 Galaxy Book awards (Best Read 2007 - premature given its not even August yet) which I have to admit attracted me to it - theres only so many 'war/soldier' books a girl can swallow before getting bored of the same plots.
Of course it also sports a Richard and Judy book club sticker which generally is enough to make me tell the book to jump back on to the shelf it attacked me from (no my dislike of R&J book club is entirely irrational I'll read the books just as long as I dont know the book club recommended them).
The book is a crime book, but it is one set in the early 1900's New York, and is concerned with characters at the higher end of the New York Social Scene as well as depicting the lives and homes of lower class New York citizens in a realistic way. The book also is an explaination of events which turned Sigmund Freud against America forever (though the truth is noone really knows what caused this opinion) and how America began to see the benefits of Freud's brand of psychoanalysis.
Stratham Younger is the main narrative voice in the book and is both a follower of Freud and a man who's family have high social status making him an ideal person to welcome Freud to America on the behalf of the University he is due to lecture at. But during the period when Freud and his party (including Karl Jung) are visiting New York a murder occurs the victim a beautiful debutante living at one of the most exclusive adresses in New York at the time. But only days later a second young woman is attacked, in a manner disturbingly similar to that of the first yet she is not killed.
This survivor is Nora Acton, Freud and Younger are given the task of trying to get Nora to remember the event which occurred as she seems to have blocked ir from her mind, in order to discover who attacked her and murdered the first woman. The prime suspect seems to always have an alibi and is a family friend to the Actons, he also happens to be resident at the address of the first murder (New Yorks first apartment block for permanent residential use) and involved in the building of the Manhattan Bridge - this is important to the story but I darent say how.
Far from being a typical murder/crime/thriller book this is in some ways similar to the Val McDermid books featuring Dr Hill, as the psychology is vitally important to the plot, also the feel of historical detail made me feel that while reading the book you really could have been in early 20th century New York. While this wasnt a book I picked up and read cover to cover immediately it is one which I did feel I needed to read as quickly as possible and will definately be re-reading in the near future. That the author uses important historical figures gives it a more diverse reader base and he doesnt let you down with a 'light' read, you will need to engage the little grey cells to understand and keep up with the story but it isnt written in a way which will confuse people, in fact it explains Freud's beliefs better than some textbooks I have had the misfortune to read (my sister studied psychology and I tended to be the one helping her with the concepts she couldnt grasp). Simply this book strikes the balance between being intellectual and a good read, so many intelligent books are too much like hard work to read and others which have promise descend in to shallow assumptions and generalisations this does neither.
For a book which is recommended by Richard and Judy I was very impressed, though the glowing reviews on the back are from the more weighty newspapers (The Times, Sunday Telegraph and Independant) is also quite impressive - other books I tend to read will get good reviews from places like FHM, The Sun, or womens magazines.
It is possibly not a beach read as the thinking involved could lead to you getting an uneven tan on the forehead due to its wrinkling but definately it is a book to pick up at some point, maybe for enjoying on a quiet weekend when the weather is too poor to go out (as has been the case so often this summer).
Since I had forgotten originally the book is 522 pages long.
My latest reading selection came from the ubiquitous Richard & Judy Book Club. This particular one is from their offerings for 2007 and it actually won their competition as their book of the year. Having not read all the others it was up against I can't comment on that result. However, their selections are usually pretty good reads and it certainly helps take out the wondering about what to read next. This one certainly did not disappoint so I can stay faithful to the scheme. Encouraging reading must be a good thing in general and should be supported.
This book is predominantly set out as a detective novel. However, as it is set in New York in 1909, it can also be viewed equally as an historical novel. As such, it can be read again on that basis as the murder solution is not the be all and end all of the whole experience. The author has very cleverly mixed together real people and events with some purely fictional ones to relate a murder mystery from his own furtive imagination. The inspiration for the story comes from Sigmund Freud's one and only visit to America from where he came home deeply affected by his visit and never returned. He called Americans "savages" and biographers have never fully explained this reaction to his visit so the author has used that unknown event as a central feature of his novel.
The synopsis of the detective story is as follows: A young woman is found dead in a grand hotel. However, she was not just killed but also, gruesomely, her hands were tied above her head, a scarf fixed round her neck and there are marks on her back and legs that intimate that she has been whipped. When a similar incident happens again, the woman, called Nora Acton, is this time fortunately saved. However, presumably from the trauma, she is unable to speak or remember what had happened. It so happens that Freud has just arrived in America for, as it turns out, his first and only visit. He is accompanied by his friends and disciples Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi to give a lecture at Clark University. Given the unusual circumstances of the case and the requirements for secrecy, the mayor takes advantage of Freud's presence to get his input into the case of this young woman. This is where the narrator, Dr Streatham Younger, takes centre stage. He is an enthusiastic student of Sigmund Freud and the then new science of psychoanalysis. He is described by his friend, Abraham Brill, as not just the most talented but the only American psychoanalyst of the time. Younger does the actual analysis with Nora in person and then reports back to Freud for his thoughts and suggestions.
The book is an easy and comfortable read. There are different strands within each chapter as the story switches between the main participants of Younger, Detective Littlemore and Coroner Hugel. For some, this constant change in story direction and the sometimes convoluted storyline might be confusing and difficult to keep on top of. However, with the easy writing style, I found it quite straightforward to follow what was going on and with whom. Having not read a murder mystery novel for quite awhile, it was an enjoyable change and a pleasure to try and work out the solution. The climatic conclusion is well laid out without any unfairness of new unexplained characters or events. All in all, it is satisfyingly concluded.
This is the first novel by Jeb Rubenfeld. He is a Professor of Law at Yale University and been described as "one of the most elegant legal writers of his generation". It is considered that his writing in this novel certainly lives up to that glowing tribute. He has written a thesis on Freud whilst he was studying at Princeton University and went on to some serious studying of Shakespeare at the Juillard School of Drama. His knowledge of both these subjects shines out from the text. Without feeling at all like a textbook or an imposing of a history lesson, he introduces us to Freud's innovative ideas and to Shakespeare's use of language and metaphors. With his knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare, he uses the narrator, Younger, to discuss Hamlet and his motivations. These centre on the pivotal speech of "To be or not to be". For anyone studying literature or merely having an interest in it, the relevant discussions in this book would be extremely interesting. Also anyone with a passing interest to Freud or Jung would be interested in the discussions of the Oedipus complex. Even the title of the book is a parody of Freud's famous work: "Interpretation of Dreams".
For those more interested in history of places, there are wonderful descriptions of New York back in the first decade of the twentieth century. There is not only the historical perspective of the architecture with the rise of the skyscrapers on Manhatten Island but also there is an exploration of the social divisions running through the city's society at the time. Thus there are several pieces of information being explored in parallel which puts one in a quandary. One wants to stop reading and take time out to think and reflect but also there is the desire to keep reading to find out about the next dramatic instalment.
At the end of the book, following the conclusion of the story, there follows an explanation by the author of who were the real people and which were the real places and events. This was fascinating to read and also to understand how he had altered some places and actual happenings to fit the story. This reinforced the notion that this was a work of fiction but also gave an understanding into real people, places and events. This was especially so relating to the confrontation between Freud and Jung, which apparently actually took place but at the different time and location of Vienna in 1912. The thoughts and views of these people have been painfully researched and are all accurate reflections from their own published letters, essays and statements. The case study of Nora from this novel is apparently based on the real case of Dora, which was one of Freud's most controversial case histories.
This is a great read and is recommended to all those who like to think about what they are reading and increase their knowledge of some cerebral matters. However, as the book can be read and absorbed on several different levels, it can be enjoyed purely for ones own individual interests if that is what is preferred. After all, there is a delicious menu to choose from. First and foremost, there is the murder mystery to enjoy with a detective and a group of suspects to follow. Then there is the historical aspects of early twentieth century New York, both in architecture and society, to appreciate. On top of that there is an introduction to the theory of psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung present to assist in your understanding. Furthermore, there is the discussion of Shakespeare with the narrator being a keen scholar able to elaborate on various theories to the meaning of certain passages. So take your pick from the selection with any combination you prefer and enjoy the mind solution!
Experienced readers of crime and thrillers tend to stifle a yawn these days when they encounter a mountain of hype about a new book or author. But the fevered word of mouth that has been generated by Jed Rubenfelds The Interpretation of Murder is, for once, justified. This is a remarkably ambitious book, taking on a powerful suspenseful narrative, assiduously researched historical detail and a brilliant evocation of time and character. It's not surprising that the book has already been sold in 20 different countries, and is already something of an international publishing phenomenon. The secret, of course, is in plotting, and few carry this off as adroitly as the author does here. But there is some wonderful historical detail here also, and a conjuring up of real-life characters that is very intelligently done.