Tag Archives: therapist

Sunday Silence: Nicci French

“After all, you’re a psychiatrist. You’re an expert in people’s dark sides.” 

Sunday Silence is the seventh novel in the Nicci French (husband and wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French ) Frieda Klein series. If you haven’t at least read some of the series, then you don’t want to start with this book. In fact you need to go back to the beginning, to Blue Monday, the first Frieda Klein novel, which introduces the complicated world of our London-based psychotherapist Frieda Klein, and also her arch-nemesis, Dean Reeve.

Sunday Silence

Sunday Silence opens with Frieda’s world becoming (once again) the object of public scrutiny. A body is discovered under the floorboards of her London home, and since Frieda’s house/office has become a crime scene, she finds she must relocate, at least temporarily, to her friend, Reuben’s house.

The prickly Chief Inspector Petra Burge is in charge of the investigation, but the crime pulls Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson, who’s out on leave due to a broken leg, and Constable Yvette Long back into the game. Other returning series characters include: builder Josef (who discovered the body during renovations) and Frieda’s troubled niece, Chloe. It’s always satisfying to reconnect with series characters and see how their lives have progressed. In Reuben’s case, he’s suffering from cancer.

The body is identified as ex-policeman Bruce Stringer who was hired by Frieda to find Dean Reeve, so of course, the finger points towards Dean Reeve as the murderer. Dean Reeve was thought to have committed suicide years earlier, but Frieda has always insisted that he’s still alive. This murder seems to prove that she’s right.

Frieda is as complicated as ever, and as usual, she never reacts as she is expected to react. As the case gains national attention and reporters circle, there’s one scene that takes place during a press conference. She’s been groomed as to how she should behave.

Frieda opened her eyes. “There are psychiatrists who are interested in violence and evil but I’m not one of them. I’m a therapist and I deal with ordinary unhappiness. I don’t have any big theory about Dean Reeve. At a certain point in his life, I just got in the way.”

Months pass, and the furor over the crime dies down, and then attacks begin on people in Frieda’s life. … Frieda, a character full of contradictions, must curse the day she ran into Dean Reeve. And while she says she ‘just got in his way,’ we can’t help but feel that there’s a bit more afoot. It’s a terrible thing to become a psychopath’s object of interest, and the more he understands about his victim, then the more vulnerable that person becomes. Will this page-turner (one of the best of the ones I’ve read in this series) bring a close to the near-invisible cat-and-mouse relationship that’s existed between Frieda and Dean?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for books about therapists, so I enjoyed this one.

I always thought it was a mistake for Frieda to live AND work in the same place. Just saying…

There’s an eighth book in the series: Day of the Dead scheduled for July 2018 in the US

Cleo also read and enjoyed the book. (UK title: Sunday Morning Coming Down)

Review copy

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Fiction, French Nicci

Blue Monday by Nicci French

“Everyone hates Mondays. It’s the low point of the week. When the alarm clock goes off on Monday morning and it’s still dark outside, and you know you have to haul yourself out of bed and begin all over again.”

I’ve seen a couple of made-for-television films based on Nicci French books–Without You and  Secret Smile to be specific. I’ve intended to read one of the novels for some time, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy of Blue Monday, a book I wanted to read after seeing reviews on Caroline’s blog and also on Reading Matters. Blue Monday is, according to the authors, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, a husband and wife team–the first in a series of eight, so sign me up for the long haul; I’m hooked.

The novel begins very strongly with the disappearance of a five-year-old child. It’s 1987, a Monday and two little girls, sisters Joanna and Rosa walk home from school together, but when Rosa loses sight of her sister for just an instance, Joanna disappears. The novel charts the case with gripping intensity and poignant moments: the initial intense investigation, the suspects, the guilt, the grief, and then finally the acceptance that this child has vanished. Joanna’s father, the main suspect at one point, is a wreck of man who compares  Joanna’s disappearance and the subsequent fallout to the unravelling of piece of knitting:

“Everything simply comes undone and in just a few moments nothing’s left to show anything was ever there.”

Fast forward twenty-two years; it’s another Monday and psychotherapist Frieda Klein is introduced into the story. She runs a small practice in London, lives alone, and is given to solitary walks at night–a habit that suits her insomnia and allows her to think through her many problems–both personal and professional. Her latest patient is Alan Dekker, a married man in his 40s. Lately Alan doesn’t feel quite well and suffers from nameless anxieties, panic attacks and the feeling that “a storm’s coming.” He admits to a “sense of being in the wrong life,” and wonders if he’s having some sort of mid-life crisis. Plagued by nightmares and strange visions, he consents to therapy and through circumstance, ends up sitting in front of Frieda. Although Alan is tightly wound and an introvert, he admits to longing for a child, a little red-haired boy, and then Frieda realises that Alan’s description uncannily matches the description of a missing five-year-old boy. Frieda faces a moral dilemma–should she tell the police or are her client’s fantasies harmless and coincidental? This moral dilemma leads Frieda to step outside of the patient-therapist boundaries and into the investigations of two missing children.

The authors successfully mesh the investigation of the missing boy with Frieda’s private and personal life. She struggles with her relationship with her one-time mentor, Reuben, who now finds himself bored by his patients and unable to concentrate on his cases, and Frieda must also come to a decision regarding Sandy, a man she’s finally allowed into her life. Then there’s her needy sister-in-law and her self-mutilating niece who aren’t above using a little emotional blackmail to exact a bigger slice of Frieda’s time. This is a lot for Frieda to absorb in her personal life while maintaining balance enough to help patients. Here’s Reuben on being burned out as a therapist:

You wouldn’t believe where I’ve gone. You wouldn’t believe the shit that flows through my human brain, and I’ve walked through it up to my neck. Men have told me things about children and women have told me things about their fathers and their uncles, and I don’t know why they didn’t just go out of the room and blow their fucking brains out, and I thought if I went on the journey with them, if I showed them that they weren’t alone, that someone could share it, then maybe they could come back and make something of their lives. And you know what? After thirty years of it, I’ve had it.

Frieda makes a marvellous series character; she’s intense, incredibly mentally tough, a loner, and committed to her job. Her main premise is that her job is “helping people sort the story of their lives. Give them a narrative,” yet in true therapist fashion (and I have a weakness with stories that feature therapists as characters), Frieda is often weighed down with her own problems. There are hints of Frieda’s problems with her mostly invisible family, and she readily admits she’s not sure of her own narrative. But Frieda isn’t the only fascinating character here, and there are plenty of hints that we’re going to see more of Ukrainian Josef,  Detective Inspector Yvette Long and her boss, divorced Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. While I guessed two of the plots twists and turns (one of which caused me to become somewhat annoyed with the police investigation), Blue Monday, comparable to the best of Ruth Rendell is full of engaging, sympathetic characters who demand sustained attention, and is an excellent beginning to a new series of page-turning psychological suspense novels. Given the ending, I’d hazard a guess that there’s some unfinished business in this story that will reemerge somewhere in the next seven novels.  

Finally here’s a quote from Frieda, an observation on one of her walks which ties in very subtly with the disappearance of a child twenty-two years before and whose traces remain only in the minds of those who loved her:

But Frieda was walking along the course of an old river. She had always been drawn to it. Once it had flowed through fields and orchards down to the Thames. It had been a place for people to sit by, to fish in, What would they have thought, men and women sitting on a summer evening, dangling their feet in the water, if they had seen its future? It had become a rubbish dump, a sewer, a ditch clogged with shit and dead animals and everything else that people couldn’t be bothered to do anything with. Finally it had been built over and forgotten about. How could a river be forgotten about? When she walked this way, Frieda always stopped by a grating where you could still hear the river flowing deep below like an echo of something. And when you had left that behind, you could still walk between the banks rising on either side. Even the occasional street name hinted at the wharves where barges had been unloaded and before that the rises, the grass slopes where people sat and just watched the crystal water flow down into the Thames. That was London. Things built upon things built upon things, each in their turn forgotten about but each somehow leaving a trace, if only a rush of water heard through a grating.

7 Comments

Filed under Fiction, French Nicci

Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

“Secrets are my currency: I deal in them for a living. The secrets of desire, of what people want, and of what they fear the most. The secrets of why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful and death so close and yet placed far away. Why are pleasure and punishment closely related? How do our bodies speak? Why do we make ourselves ill? Why do you want to fail? Why is pleasure so hard to bear?”

And so begins Hanif Kureishi’s brilliant new novel, Something to Tell You. While I often don’t particularly like the characters Kureishi creates (I would find their lives too messy to deal with in ‘real life’), they are always the sort of people I want to read about–bright, interesting, entertaining and troubled. And in Something to Tell You, once again, Kureishi delivers a wonderful tale with his usual worldly wisdom. If you enjoyed The Buddha of Suburbia, then chances are you will enjoy the marvelous Something To Tell You, for in some ways these two novels complement each other.

The narrator of Something to Tell You is Jamal Kahn a London-based, middle-aged Anglo-Indian psychoanalyst. Jamal tells us: “Alas to the surprise of many, psychoanalysis doesn’t make people behave better, nor does it make them morally good.” Divorced and with a busy practice, Jamal spends his days listening to his patients’ many problems, and even Jamal’s relatives, friends and acquaintances feel free to bend Jamal’s ear at any time of the day or night. Jamal, who spends his life listening to others, tells his story to the reader, reaching back into his past while exploring the nature of desire, guilt, and loss. Kureishi’s characters are mainly middle-aged Londoners, coming to terms with aging and death, juggling those realities against the time left. While the renewal of desire and desirability is a huge issue for some of the characters, Jamal struggles with the ghosts of his past and long cherished dreams of what could have been.

Jamal’s life is full of colourful characters–Jamal’s mother has “discharged her duty and gone AWOL,” and Jamal’s exotic sister, Miriam and her lover theater and film director Henry embark on an odyssey of the London sex club scene, much to the dismay of Henry’s daughter. The fact that Henry is also Jamal’s best friend complicates matters even further, and Jamal is expected to ‘save’ Henry from Miriam’s corrupting clutches. But Jamal has problems of his own. His ex-wife Josephine and son, Rafi are steadily moving out of Jamal’s life into new lives of their own. When the novel begins, Jamal’s life is fairly sterile and uncomplicated, but as the story develops, he becomes increasingly mired in the relationships of his family and friends. Plus Jamal’s past–incidents he’d much rather leave buried–float to the surface and cannot be avoided.

I loved this novel. Kureishi’s amazing insight into human relationships seeps through on every page, and he’s an experienced enough author to veer away from the trap of making the therapist/narrator the person who has all the answers. Jamal may be a therapist, but he’s just as troubled as everyone else. The difference with Jamal, however, is that his problems are largely buried, so his life appears, at least on the surface, to be in control. The madness and mayhem of Miriam’s chaotic household with her cabbie partner-in crime, Bushy, a dealer in contraband, is in complete contrast to Jamal’s ordered existence. Jamal has a time and a place for passion, but unlike his sister, it’s compartmentalized, tucked safely away from the other aspects of his life. Jamal’s ex-lover, Karen notes that Jamal “hated to fall in love, it was liked being sucked down the plughole. You lost control, it was madness.”

Kureishi’s books and films (Rosie and Sammy Get Laid, My Beautiful Launderette) tend to be social commentaries of the shifting times. Buddha of Suburbia, for example, is a stunning account of the 70s and 80s in Britain. Something to Tell You is also an account of a shifting Britain–a Britain in which “we live in Thatcher’s psyche if not her anus, in the world she made, of competition, consumerism, celebrity and guilt’s bastard son, Charity: bingeing and debt.” In this world of shifting values, “who could not be amused by the fact that the capitalism unleashed by the Conservatives under Thatcher was destroying the very social values the party espoused.” With an unpopular war waging in Iraq, the tragedy of the London bombings of 2005, and a country run by a government running amok, Kureishi weaves in the troubled political times that contribute to his characters’ sense of betrayal, loss, and confusion as they struggle with disappointments, aging, and the “uses and difficulties of pleasure.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kureishi, Hanif