Saturday, December 21, 2013

Freud's Mistress by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman

3.5 Star

Minna Bernays is an overeducated woman with limited options. Fired yet again for speaking her mind, she finds herself out on the street and out of options. In 1895 Vienna, even though the city is aswirl with avant-garde artists and writers and revolutionary are still very few options for women besides marriage. And settling is not something Minna has ever done.

Out of desperation, Minna turns to her older sister, Martha, for help. But Martha has her own problems—six young children, a host of physical ailments, a household run with military precision, and an absent, overworked, disinterested husband 
who happens to be Sigmund Freud. Freud is a struggling professor, all but shunned by his peers and under attack for his theories, most of which center around sexual impulses, urges, and perversions. While Martha is shocked and repulsed by her husband’s "pornographic" work, Minna is fascinated.

Minna is everything Martha is not—intellectually curious, an avid reader, stunning. But while she and Freud embark on what is at first simply an intellectual courtship, something deeper is brewing beneath the surface, something Minna cannot escape.

Lydia - 3.5 Star

Having studied psychology in university, I found this one an interesting read, although not a very engaging one. Based on the recently substantiated rumour that Freud was having an affair with his sister-in-law, Freud’s Mistress delves deep into Freud’s life through his wife’s sister’s eyes in a fictional account. Told from her viewpoint, we’re given an account of the infamous figure, his family life, his theories and his work. 

Minna and her sister, Martha, couldn’t be more different, and Freud’s struggles as a professor before his theories became accepted was interesting to read about. All of this captured me from the beginning, however, none of the characters have much of a progression which made the second half of this novel more tedious to read. Freud himself doesn’t come across very well in this novel, as neither does Minna, in love with and having an affair with her sister’s husband. Normally this type of plot might not hold much interest to me, but for some reason this one kept most of my attention and I think it was due to the history and the psychology as I wasn’t particularly taken with any of the characters. Freud’s egotism and aloofness was especially off-putting as was Minna’s naiveté and Martha’s disinterest in her husband and children.

I enjoyed the historical details, even the discussions of Freud’s theories and how they were received by his colleagues and found myself particularly fascinated by the drug use. What I wasn’t sure of was Minna’s continuous mention of it being detrimental to his health. Was smoking and even the very common drug use of the times known as being detrimental? I wasn’t sure and this stopped me and made me wonder. I could have used her having some proof to refer to, a doctor’s report or the like, and then it might have been more believable to me. 

I couldn’t even remotely connect to romance in this story which didn’t help my overall enjoyment. Their relationship was very mechanical and boring – but this is Freud we’re speaking about, so I’m not sure fireworks and passion would have worked. Clinical and even-keeled and passionless suited the story. I might have been turned off by a Freud who turned all sorts of tricks, regardless of his whacky theories. 

I did, however, find the story very easy to read with prose that wasn’t too bogged down in detail that flowed easily, and I loved the description of Vienna, pinning away for a trip overseas. If you’re interested in history and Freud you might very well find this one interesting. 

Thank you to Putnam for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

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