2007-10-14

Flat and convoluted: The Interpretation of Murder

I expected Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder to be a thinking person's who's-the-killer novel, largely because he incorporated Sigmund Freud's 1909 trip to America as part and parcel of the story.

In the end, however, I was disappointed. May be my expectation was unreasonably high. But what I thought was wrong was that Rubenfeld really had a lot to improve as a novel writer.

The ingredients for success were all there: Freud and all the mistrust and in-fighting within the cult, the reinterpretation of the Oedipal complex, Nora the female protagonist which was loosely based on Freud's famous case Dora, and impeccable research on what high society life was like in America at the turn of the 20th Century.

But Rubenfeld didn't do a good job weaving all these elements together. Freud, psychoanalysis and Hamlet did not blend well with what was essentially a mainstream, best-seller-wannabe thriller with too many twists and turns. And he was no good in developing characters either. The male protagonist Dr Younger started as a young Freudian but ended as a solving-a-crime-while-involving-in-a-romance hero. Carl Jung was portraited in a caricature way. Rubenfeld's attempt to mislead readers into thinking that Jung was somehow involved in the murder/assault cases was not smartly done; quite laughable indeed I think.

Having said all that, it was still an enjoyable reading experience for me (the first two-thirds especially), since any novel with Freud as a major character is bound to be interesting.

I won't be surprised if a few years down the track, Rubenfeld decides to use more or less the same material to write a similar novel. I am sure the next attempt would be much more satisfactory.

The Interpretation of Murder - official site