Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

Mystery/crime genre novels are not usually my cup of tea, I have to say. But I was intrigued by this novel because of its premise involving Freud, Jung, and Hamlet. That is not to say that those three characters were stuck on a page together, making some sort of bizarre time-travelling story, though.

Set in New York City in the early 1900s, The Interpretation of Murder follows Freud on his first (and only, I think) visit to America. With Jung and some other psychoanalysts in tow, Freud sets out to give some lectures and discover the American people. This much is true; he did go there at this time and when he got back, bad-mouthed Americans as ‘brutes’ and blamed his own proceeding ailments on his visit there, a puzzle his biographers were never able to solve.

Jed Rubenfeld, however, has written a novel with his own (slightly fantastic) theory. It starts (dramatically) with a blood-curdling scream, and the discovery of a girl’s dead body in a glitzy New York hotel room. When, the following day, another young girl is found similarly brutally wounded in her bedroom and having no memory of the attack, Freud is called upon to analyse her, to see if he can bring up the repressed memories through analysis.

Rubenfeld has included some interesting psychoanalytic theory (including an analysis of Hamlet that’ll make me look at Shakespeare differently forevermore), and the historical setting of New York is well-evoked, too. Most of all I liked the plot – it is everything a mystery should be: suspenseful, peppered with humour and full of surprising twists that’ll keep your eyes glued to the page.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be going to the library and making a beeline for the mystery/crime section any time soon. But then, I’m not a huge fan of over-classification and the obsessive genre-fying of everything. I just like a good piece of writing, whatever its merits may be. So perhaps I should let this be a lesson in the timeless “book by its cover” adage. Or, “book by its genre”. Keep that one in mind.

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