Thursday, August 30, 2007

When a book grabs you...

... you've just got to pick it up and read it!

Boring myself with PC reinstalls at one of the branch libraries t'other day, I stumbled upon Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder. The blurb on the back looked intriguing:
The Interpretation of Murder is an intricately plotted literary thriller based on true events - the story of Sigmund Freud's 1909 visit to New York. Around this kernel of fact, Jed Rubenfeld has spun a spectacularly entertaining fiction centred upon murder: a wealthy young debutante is discovered bound, whipped and strangled in her penthouse apartment, high above Broadway. The following night Nora Acton, another society beauty, narrowly escapes the same fate and the mayor of New York calls upon Freud to use his revolutionary ideas to help Nora recover her memory and solve the crime. But nothing about the attacks - or indeed about Nora - is quite as it seems.

and, strangely the cover looked very intriguing - a period setting, that yellowing-sepia style and at its centre a mysterioso (a man in bowler hat walking away from us) - who is he?

I read to the first break, and immediately loved the tone and writing - it's going to be a book with brains that is an easy read and manages its reveals very well:

There is no mystery to happiness.

Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn – or worse, indifference – cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.

But there’s the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning – the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life – a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.

For myself, I have always chosen meaning. Which, I suppose, is how I came to be waiting in the swelter and mob of Hoboken harbor on Sunday eve­ning, August 29, 1909, for the arrival of the Norddeutsche Lloyd steamship George Washington, bound from Bremen, carry­ing to our shores the one man in the world I wanted most to meet.

At 7 p.m. there was still no sign of the ship. Abraham Brill, my friend and fellow physician, was waiting at the harbor for the same reason as I. He could hardly contain himself, fidgeting and smoking incessantly. The heat was murderous, the air thick with the reek of fish. An unnatural fog rose from the water, as if the sea ­were steaming. Horns sounded heavily out in the deeper water, their sources invisible. Even the keening gulls could be only heard, not seen. A ridiculous premonition came to me that the George Washington had run aground in the fog, her twenty­five hundred European passengers drowning at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Twilight came, but the temperature did not abate. We waited.

All at once, the vast white ship appeared not as a dot on the horizon, but mammoth, emerging from the mist full­blown before our eyes. The entire pier, with a collective gasp, drew back at the apparition. But the spell was broken by the outbreak of harbormen’s cries, the flinging and catching of rope, the bustle and jostle that followed. Within minutes, a hundred stevedores ­were unloading freight.

Brill, yelling at me to follow, shouldered through to the gangway. His entreaties to board were rebuffed; no one was being let on or off the ship. It was another hour before Brill yanked at my sleeve and pointed to three passengers descending the bridge. The first of the trio was a distinguished, immaculately groomed, gray­haired, and gray­bearded gentleman whom I knew at once to be the Viennese psychiatrist Dr Sigmund Freud.

Doesn't that just make you want to get on and read? Am I becoming geekier by the day?

Anyhoo, after the double paragraph introduction that will sum up the great quest at the centre of the novel, we meet our main character and his setting - so clearly and deliberately evoked by such a cunning style that I loathe the writer already (just check out the fourth paragraph that gives a feel for Brill (in his actions), the narrator (his worry for the ship and his chosen descriptions: unnatural, premonition; later: apparition) and the place.

And of course, Freud is revealed at the end of the passage. Short of reading the blurb, this is a case in point to Solvey's recent blog post regarding how to develop suspense in readers and how then to deliver on that. Here we know from the outset (okay, after the initial two paragraph intro) that our narrator is awaiting someone so very special to him. We are then left hanging - the hook having been cast... who is this man? And after the wait and a brief getting-to-know our narrator the reveal (and note how Freud is left to the very, very last word).

It's a shame I've got my set reading to do - five books to get through for uni before I can move onto this. Gaa!

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