Friday, August 29, 2008

Jed Rubenfeld: The Interpretation of Murder (Unabridged Audio)

When: This summer
Verdict: An OK thriller, not quite interesting enough for the slower pace of audio
Fate: Removed from iTunes

I don't find I have enough time to read crime fiction, even though I love it. Audio books are a decent solution, especially since I often listen at the gym and in other environments where I might be distracted at times and might find complex argumentation difficult to follow (which, by the way, reaffirms my admiration for the way in which barely literate people in the Renaissance could follow and decode highly allegorical, dense and multi-layered sermons and plays with audio alone).

The Interpretation of Murder gets extra points for being, at least contextually, a historical novel. Calling it "locally uchronic" might be correct… It is set during a real trip taken to New York by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and other early psychoanalysts, at a point in time when they were just finding an audience, but before they were entirely through with figuring out what they actually thought. Also, obviously, before Freud and Jung took separate paths.

Rubenfeld connives a way to get them involved in a (fictional) murder investigation – on the trail of a serial killer with an assortment of sexual fetishes, naturally – and by the end of the book, the crime is solved with not too many surprises along the way. What makes the book worth reading is Rubenfeld's painstaking attention to detail. He makes an enormous effort to bring alive turn-of-the-previous-century New York, its landmarks, social classes, mores and hypocrisies. The 20th century is beginning, in some ways brought about by the psychoanalysts themselves, and while it will bring many freedoms to many previously oppressed groups, there is also a sadness in the loss of the 19th century fairytale world of the privileged. As resonant themes go, that is not bad for a crime romp.

When it comes to psychoanalysis itself, Rubenfeld stays close to the sources, that is, the published texts, letters and diaries of everyone involved. His grasp of psychoanalytical concepts and how they developed within the small community, as well as of the social dynamics between the characters, seems solid enough. Some conversations are apparently reconstructions based on actual historical recollections (although transposed, by necessity, into the frame of the thriller plot). So The Interpretation of Murder serves as a decent primer to the state of psychoanalysis at the point when it started to matter, and a highly entertaining snapshot of the inevitable tensions between its rapid consequences and the bourgeois society which had produced it.

The audio book is fine, but I suggest reading it in print. The descriptions and theoretical conversations, interesting though they are, can drag on a bit too lazily for the audio tempo.

Buy The Interpretation of Murder on Amazon.

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