This week: history involving Freud and two doctors
This week there’s a novel about the evils of radicalisation in our social media-soaked world, there’s a thriller set in Sao Paulo, there’s an anthology of short essays from people as diverse as the Dalai Lama and David Norris, and there’s a fascinating slice of history involving Sigmund Freud and two British doctors.
The Silence Project, Carole Hailey, Corvus, €16.99
Anyone who’s read John Irving’s The World According to Garp will remember the Ellen Jamesians, an extreme feminist group who cut out their own tongues for reasons I won’t go into (read the book to find out!). I read Garp well more than 40 years ago and never forgot them. And I was immediately reminded of them in this novel.
On Emilia Morris’s 13th birthday in 2003, her mother Rachel stops speaking and goes to live in a tent in the bottom of their garden. She never speaks again. In 2011, Rachel is to burn herself to death in spectacular fashion. More than 21,00 other women worldwide will do the same, in what’s become known as The Event. Rachel has become an icon, martyr, feminist role model, saint, though she was none of those things. This novel is Emilia’s story of her mother and the cult that developed around her. Writing the story is risky business, as The Community (a powerful cult founded by Rachel) is opposed to it.
This is a remarkable novel and besides the fictional Ellen Jamesians it brings to mind the real David Karesh and Jim Jones, and illustrates the evil that lies in men’s (and women’s) hearts when they decide their way is the only way.
Nothing Can Hurt You Now, Simone Campos, translated by Rahul Bery, Pushkin Press, €23.99
Lucinda’s sister Viviana, a model, has gone missing in Sao Paulo. When Lucinda reports it to the police, they’re not terribly interested. Going missing in Sao Paulo is, it seems, as common as bicycle theft in Dublin. Time is of the essence, so Lucinda launches her own investigation with the help of a friend of Viviana. The first thing Lucinda is to discover is that Vivi has been working as a prostitute. She’s also been keeping a journal, which Lucinda hopes will lead her to whoever has taken her sister.
Campos’ description of how dire life is for women forced into crime on the streets of Sao Paulo is an eye-opener. These women are nothing, their casualties are mostly disregarded. And if a woman isn’t white, well… she’s considered less than nothing. And this, really, is the nub of the novel. It’s an engrossing story but it’s the backdrop that will remain with the reader, an underworld that’s hiding in plain sight that nobody seems to want to fix. As political as it is a tense page-turner, it’s an engrossing read.
Finding Hope, Sister Stan, Columba Press, €19.99
This is another elegantly presented book following on Sr Stan’s previous book, Finding Peace. The idea here is the same idea she adopted for Finding Peace in that she has written to various people, some very well known worldwide (like for instance the Dalai Lama) and others closer to home who may not be so famous (like Mary Lou MacDonald!) with a simple question; what do they do to find hope in their busy lives?
The responses are as diverse as the people themselves, and there are some surprising words from, for instance, some well-known reporters who deliver the news every day and still, somehow, find room for hope. Who said hacks are cynics?
Each short essay is accompanied by an inspirational quotation and a short line from the Bible, and I must say books like this really can inspire, whether we have strong religious faith or none at all. Working as Sr Stan does with the homeless and disenfranchised, it’s hard to know where she finds hope, but she does.
She is ever hopeful. And so are all the contributors to this gorgeous book. I’d recommend having it to hand, maybe on your bedside table or on the kitchen shelf, somewhere it can easily be found. And take note of the entries that sing to you. We could all do with an extra dollop of hope.
The Guru, the Bagman and the Sceptic, Seamus O’Mahony, Head of Zeus, €19.99
Those who have faith in the power of psychoanalysis need to look away now. Or maybe they should read this book if they dare! Subtitled ‘A story of science, sex and psychoanalysis’, this book traces the lives and careers of Freud, his arch-disciple and biographer Ernest Jones (a man who repeatedly couldn’t keep his hands to himself, especially when it came to his patients) and the surgeon and author Wilfred Trotter, a brother-in-law of Jones who didn’t care much for Freud’s sex-obsessed philosophies.
In his introduction, Mahony says: "…psychoanalysis has always bothered me; I have written this book partly to find out why". And if psychoanalysis doesn’t bother you, it may very well bother you after reading this.
Although Freud has largely been dismissed since the latter part of the last century, his influence still reverberates. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of him? And when doctor Ernest Jones – a really unsavoury character – jumped on Freud’s bandwagon, he was to reap the considerable financial rewards of his newfound… er… ’career’, despite having being dismissed from various medical posts for fiddling with his patients.
Eminent surgeon, Wilfred Trotter, who was once a close friend of Jones, was no fan of Sigmund Freud. Mahony traces the careers of these three men over a period of 30 years up to 1939 and also looks at how and why psychoanalysis became the panacea of the self-obsessed wealthy, from Vienna to Britain, Canada and beyond.
Our psychological problems may not actually be due to lack of breastfeeding or penis envy, but who knew? The quality of Mahony’s prose is superb and utterly devoid of hyperbole – there was enough of that in at least two out of these three characters’ lives – and his research is extensive. It’s an utterly absorbing work that’s not short on nuggets of wry humour.
The deadline for the Listowel Writers Week competition is March 6, so if you’re entering keep it in mind. See www.writersweek.ie for full details.
The Fish Poetry Prize competition is closing on March 31. Full details are on fishpublishing.com.