Monday, September 25

The Case of Emily V. by Keith Oatley

Review by Theodore Feit

This is the second novel read in recent weeks in which Sigmund Freud plays a major role. Of course the other book, The Interpretation of Dreams, is being backed by a half-million-dollar marketing campaign. In contrast, this novel, which first appeared in hardcover in Great Britain in 1993 and in paperback in Canada in 1994, is just now making its appearance in the United States with a modest initial print run of 5,000. The publisher is to be praised for bringing it to the U.S. and let’s hope for a larger second printing—the novel deserves a wider readership. I should state that the only similarity between the two novels is that Interpretation takes place in 1909 and this one in 1903.

Divided into three books, The Case of Emily V. recounts the case of a young lady who was sexually abused by her guardian for four years from the age of 14. Book One alternates between case notes by Dr. Freud while treating Emily, and her journal. In this section we learn that she is ill because she has caused the death of her guardian while repulsing his advances, this after he chased her from Philadelphia to Vienna where she then taught at a girl’s school after hiding her whereabouts from him for several years. We learn of her feelings of guilt while keeping essential facts from Freud’s psychoanalysis.

Book Two introduces Sherlock Holmes, with Dr. Watson recounting his activities. It seems Emily’s guardian was a British diplomat charged with a secret mission to deal with Germany’s aggressive policies. Holmes’ older brother has just become the head of a newly established OSS/CIA/MI5-type organization and has retained his younger sibling as a consultant to investigate whether the diplomat was assassinated by the Germans. He travels to Vienna and even meets Dr. Freud at Watson’s behest, after the latter attended one of the psychiatrist’s lectures in which he described the Case of Emily V.

Book Three basically is a series of entries into Emily’s journal and tying all the loose ends together, including Emily’s fears at discovery over the murder, her mental health and steps taken toward her recovery of sorts. A postscript by psychologist Dr. Ellen Berger attempts to help explain various issues, including the mystery.

The novel is an award-winning psychological thriller which keeps the reader’s interest from the first page to the last. Well-conceived and -written, it takes the form of previously “undiscovered” manuscripts. This book was 11 weeks on the bestseller list [of the Globe and Mail] and was reprinted four times before being issued in paperback. Let’s hope history repeats itself in the United States.


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