Pages: 305 Publish date: Jan. 2010
The reason I chose to read this novel is because I won it in an online contest, Thank You Shira! But before I delve into the many feelings I have regarding this novel, a little about the author. Shira Nayman is an Australian who now lives in NY with her family. She is a clinical psychologist who has worked in psychiatric hospitals & has taught psychology & literature. That being said she has a natural ability in writing such a novel.
After receiving it & re-reading the synopsis, I realized this novel was perfect for me. I have always been fascinated by the daily goings on of insane asylums (or mental institutions-however you elect to refer to them). There is so much mystery to psychosis, the environment in which it manifests, and finally chooses to unveil itself. That alone makes it an interesting read.
This novel takes place Fall 1947-Spring 1949, a world post WWII. The main character is Dr. Henry Harrison, Chief of Psychiatry at Shadowbrooke. Most all of the patients are admitted due to some absolute base forms of PTSD (if you can only imagine after freeing concentration camps), but not all patients are from the war. This is an exclusive asylum, so the patients are wealthy and are allowed to bring one of their own house staff with them to take care of some needs. Very unusual, but not unlikely. A few such characters are writers, artists, & scientists, which makes Shadowbrooke all the more interesting. The other main character is that of Bertram Reiner. Bertram is a self-admitted WWII veteran who came to the hospital not for treatment, but to hide from his brother whom which he believes is out to kill him. And the paranoid fixation ensues….
There are several other intriguing characters, but none can come off the page like these two.
Nayman tantalized me early on with her (or Bertram’s) thoughts on Velazquez’s painting, “Las Meninas”, one of the most analyzed works in Western painting. The struggle between reality and illusion, a mirror image of ourselves, in darkness. The author did actually help me understand that there is no illusion without you knowing that there is a reality to begin with. The question I am left with is, once you lose your sense of reality, what then does the illusion/alternate reality feel like? Does it manifest itself as the previous boring reality that drove you to seeing beyond all normalcy to begin with?
There was one moment that actually got my heart racing, in an unnerving way. Although it was lucid, it still struck a chord. Dr. Harrison, in his office late at night, looks out his window and sees a figure under a tree starring up at his window. Yet startled and fearful as he is, he does nothing. From this scene I took away the fact that no matter how real things are, we still have the choice to deny it.
I still cannot be sure as to why, but Dr. Harrison becomes drawn to Bertram. He does to such an extent that it totally consumes him. While trying not to give away an spoilers, I will say there are fair amounts of sex and drugs, which inevitably leads to issues in Dr. Harrison’s domestic life.
The epilogue is probably my favorite part. If you haven’t noticed by now I am an ending person. It makes or breaks the book. That being said, to Shira Nayman, this epilogue was a recherche jewel. I think this is an enjoyable read (for me), and if you like what I’ve written you should consider it as well.