by Catherine Gildiner
Published by Knopf Canada
486 pages, 2005
Messing With Minds
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
There's a whole lot more going on in Catherine Gildiner's Seduction than mere murder. The author has woven a mystery around none other than Darwin, Freud and his daughter, Anna. When the story begins, Anna is old but still very much alive and kicking. What's fact in this book and what's fiction? While it's obvious that the two main characters are the creation of the author, how many of the events alluded to really happened? It's enough to send readers off to the libraries and into search engines in their eagerness to discover what is true and what isn't. This is a good thing.
So I uncovered the fact that Anna Freud, Sigmund's beloved and devoted daughter, died in 1982 and in her own way did as much for children in psychoanalysis as did Freud for adults. In this tale, though, Anna is still very much alive. Some facts in the book seem to closely parallel truth. Anna really was analyzed by her father from 1918 to 1922. She did nurse him through his long illness and she did champion his reputation and his research with bulldog tenacity. She never did marry. The jacket cover shows a perfect photo of the famous man himself with daughter Anna on his arm.
Books like this require a huge amount of research on the part of the writer, but Gildiner is no fool. She did her own doctoral thesis on the influence of Darwin on Freud and has been a clinical psychologist in private practice in Toronto for many years, as well as a popular psychological advice columnist for Chatelaine magazine. The topic is a good choice, therefore, for her first foray into fiction. (Her other published work is a memoir, Too Close to the Falls.)
When she writes of what she knows, credibility is totally there. We feel we are in self assured hands. If we can get a lesson on psychoanalysis and some additional background on Freud's life and his relationship to Charles Darwin thrown in with our engrossing murder mystery, why wouldn't we read happily? It appears to be a winning combination, especially with an opening sentence like: "It's really embarrassing to admit, but I forget why I killed my husband."
But while I greatly enjoyed the information on the Darwin/Freud connection and the imagination of the writer in plotting this imaginative foray, I was disappointed in the characters of Kate and Jackie and much of the dialogue between them. Kate is an ex-con, after nine years she is out of jail briefly in order to help investigate the director of the Freud academy, a man who appears hell bent on destroying the reputation of Sigmund Freud. Chosen because she has spent her years in jail studying the writings and letters of Freud and becoming an expert on him, Kate is the obvious one to link up with this womanizing director and find out what he is about to unleash on the world.
Partnered up with a bulldog with the improbable first name of Jackie, she travels from Toronto to Vienna to London and New York as both attempt to discover what information this director has that he threatens will make psychoanalysis obsolete. En route there is the odd murder or two.
Jackie has many problems of his own. He's been in prison for most of his life but now is a private inspector par excellence, with his own very efficient staff of sleuths. One of his problems is that readers won't buy him. He shouts out lines like: "Don't get me wrong. I'm all for polymorphous perversity -- always have been. The problem with Freud is he's a city-slicker momma's boy who never got out of the study." Then there's a private but loud discussion about murder most foul in the back of the taxi, to which the taxi driver is party. Speaking loudly may be part of the character of tough Jackie the jailbird, but shouting out private business in public does not fit with the image of intelligence we are supposed to have of him.
Kay's meeting with Anna at the end is another area where credibility is strained. We are unable to swallow the naiveté of the sleuth who knows what's coming but hasn't got a contingency plan.
Because of these inconsistencies I would find myself engrossed in the plot, only to come up short from time to time shaking my head in exasperation, irritated by out-of-character dialogue and actions, much of this coming at the end. The pat blackmail ending nearly did me in. There's also the realization that that gripping first line in the book is invalid, stemming from the author's search for a good opener rather than from the character. Kate has not forgotten for one minute why she killed her husband. The violent past clings to her like a demon waiting to be exorcised. But not a word more. Read Seduction for the nonfiction instead and you'll be fine. | June 2005
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.