Freud’s Alphabet

Book Reviews | Jan 26th, 2007

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Author: Jonathan Tel
Publisher: Counterpoint
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 175
Retail Price: 5.99
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Sigmund Freud never wanted to leave his homeland of Austria. Finally, surrounded by Nazis, he was left with no choice and allowed himself to taken to London to die. This book in a way chronicles his last days in a foreign land he couldn’t stand (or understand), tormented by cancer and a painful prosthetic palate.

But this isn’t your Irving Stone historical fiction. The book is a collection of 26 short stories or episodes, each with an alphabetical Freud-appropriate theme per letter (Id for I, Sleep for S, etc.). The stories themselves are dreamlike; there is little dialogue or action, but hazy descriptions of Freud’s internal and external environment. Moods and settings are painted well, but in short and choppy Celine-ish sentences, giving off a feeling of what must’ve been a zoned-out time for the heavily drugged and dying doctor, perceiving a bleak and unknown London days leading up to WWII.

Freud’s Alphabet doesn’t offer too much historical insight into Freud’s last days (you wouldn’t be able to reference this book for a school report on Freud), but you do get a powerful sense of that disorienting stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling, compounded by his pain, a zombified morphine state, and the lurking shadows of war. If you were wondering about Freud’s attitudes toward his work or place in history, you won’t find it here. But then again, perhaps these stories do more accurately reflect what must’ve been a very dreamlike mind-state.

It’s a short, breezy book and not worth the hefty $24 price tag (note: now a bargain book!), but you may want to take it out of the library. It’s not solely for Freud fanatics as it is less of a book on him than an interesting look at pre-war London through his eyes. And more than that, it’s a lovely showcase of Jonathan Tel’s imaginative style.

Bottom Line: D is for Decent
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