Friday, September 16, 2016
Photo: from the Washington Post's review of the book
Very good, pleasant read that will make you feel you are there, and maybe make you feel a little smarter, without taking that much out of you. As usual with Tallis, he excels at place and time, is a little short on female characters, is heavy on the psychology and philosophy, maybe mentions Freud a little too much, and adds a wrinkle that you should see coming but that you appreciate nonetheless. Such has been the case with the Leibermann series set in Vienna--actually with Freud--and the two non-mysteries I've read. The end result is a pleasant excursion that leaves you with something to think about. Especially interesting is the Cartesian confusion of reality versus dreams. Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, but how do you know you're not dreaming of thinking that? What if, in fact, what we think are our dreams are actually our reality, and our reality is nothing but slumber?
The book is set in a supposedly haunted mental health facility, which is run by a well-known and well-connected guy who believes in putting his patients to sleep for many months for therapuetic reasons. (This is all supposedly based on a real guy and a real place, according to Tallis's notes at the end.) But the discerning reader is a little wary right away, especially this one, who has seen The Others and such films, and is ready to be psychologically waylaid. When the patient reports start coming, and one of them refers to a report (one of two) that isn't presented with it, you should know what to expect at the end, in the last report.
When it comes, though, you're not dissatisfied, exactly. I think this is because Tallis doesn't seem to think that he's pulling a fast one on us. He knows we know what's coming, but it's in the getting there that matters. Tallis treats the reader intelligently, and writes intelligent stories that never become highbrow or condescending, so for that we're willing to go along for the ride, even if we know how the ride will end. It's a pleasant enough journey, and the ideas presented are interesting. It's not as depressing an ending as it could've been, either, because you saw it coming miles away.
For the record, I disagree with the "extreme paranoia" mentioned at the end, as I don't think the character's misgivings go too far, but that's perhaps the point in this made-up world of his. I think it would've perhaps been a little more interesting and convincing to have one of the other characters in that situation at the end, which would've led to more interesting world-building. But this could've also been messed-up big-time by Tallis, at which point the whole book would've perhaps felt like a waste, or maybe it would've seemed like it had a condescending tone, like it was over-reaching. Read it, and decide, and leave me a message if you'd like. Makes me want to write my own take on this whole thing in my own story or novel, and end it the way I say. We'll see.