Friday, June 02, 2006

Keith Oatley: The Case of Emily V.

I stumbled across this book in the crime fiction section of the library (all crime fiction obligingly marked with a yellow dot and grouped together, I only have to browse...). My attention was caught by the title, and on the back I read that it's
a terrific quasi-mystery set in Vienna and featuring a melancholic Sherlock Holmes, a smug Sigmund Freud, and an entirely engaging young classics teacher named Emily V.
Well, I had to borrow it then, didn't I? After all, I had to check if it was comparable to Laurie R. King's fantastic Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Well, quasi-mystery is right. This is not really crime fiction, as the crime is very much by-the-way. The background idea is that three manuscripts from ca 1904 (or something) have been recovered, one by Emily V., one by Dr Watson, and one by Freud. They all centre around the same events, from different points of view. Emily V. was sexually abused as a child, and now blames herself for the death of her abuser. She starts seeing Freud on the advice of a friend. And later Holmes and Watson show up, investigating the death of the abuser, who was also a British diplomat and spy.

The novel combines these three manuscripts into one. It's cleverly done, with Oatley capturing the original narrative styles of Doyle and Freud (no that I've read much Freud, but Oatley's a professor of psychology himself, so I'm sure he knows what he's about). The last chapter is a postscript by a dr Ellen Berger, which analyzes the manuscripts you've just read. An interesting twist! I can't find her name on Google, so I'm not sure if Oatley has made her up entirely or borrowed bits of her from medical accquaintances...

This novel reminds me of Sofies värld by Jostein Gardner, in that it presents an area of learning in a more accessible manner. Or, for that matter, Nils Holgerssons Underbara Resa... If you want to be introduced to Freudian theory it might be a good place to start.. or if you want some long-winded flowery descriptions of people having sex. The only good thing with that passage is that it is "put into context" in "Berger's" analysis at the end. (I'm too old to be interested in reading about sex, or seeing it on film. I prefer having it. I am no longer 14.) It took me a while to finish the book, partly because of said long-windedness, not only on matters of lesbian sex. It's part of the early 20th century style the book is written in, but it's a bit tedious. Well, at least if you were expecting more crime novel. The story tends to drive itself forward then.

To sum up, recommended, on the whole.

Finally: In today's DN there is a review of the Swedish translation of Dan Brown's novel Digital Fortress (which I've read. It's crap, but I liked it better than the others, probably because I'm ignorant in computer matters so he was able to feed me shite while calling it soup and I wouldn't have noticed). In the last paragraph the journalist mentions that what is truly terrifying is that Brown previously taught "creative writing". Where will this lead? Will we be flooded with "thrillers" in ten years time?

Scary thought indeed. Let's hope the students surpass the teacher, in that case.

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