On August 29, 1909, Dr. Sigmund Freud and his colleagues, aboard the George Washington lands in New York…
Later, on the same day, a young woman is brutally beaten and murdered in her apartment in downtown New York…
The Interpretation of Murder, written by Jed Rubenfeld, is, essentially, a murder mystery, about the strange events that happened the same week Dr. Sigmund Freud, Dr. Carl Jung and Dr. Sandor Ferenczi arrived in New York City to deliver a set of lectures.
The Interpretation of Murder a multi-layered novel. On the surface is the story of Dr. Freud’s first time visit to America, being shown around New York by American psychiatrist Dr. Abraham Brill and Dr. Stratham Younger, alternating with the mystery of a potential serial killer on the loose, targeting rich debutantes. Underneath, the author presents his characters’ and his own ideas and opinions on the theories of psychology and psychoanalysis, of the human mind and behavior. And because of Dr. Younger’s passion for Shakespeare, there is also a literary layer wherein he dissects the existence Hamlet and the meaning of his famous question: “To be or not to be…” using psychoanalysis and Freud’s principles of sexual repression.
Chronicling the parallel the events of Freud’s visit to America and growing conflicts with Carl Jung, and the mystery of the murdered and assaulted debutantes, the narration in the novel alternates between third person to Dr. Younger’s first person point of view – Dr. Younger being the only character involved in both stories.
Though a work of fiction, most of the characters in the novel are real or based on real people who were involved in the actual events described in the novel, or in similar events that took place during the characters’ lifetimes. In fact, the only fictional characters in the novel are Dr. Stratham Younger, and some of the characters involved in the murder mystery, including Detective Littlemore.
According to the author, Jed Rubenfeld, he did intensive research on the events, architecture and culture of New York in the early 1900’s as well as the works of Dr. Sigmund Freud and Dr. Carl Jung. Rubenfeld also stated that he drew heavily from Freud’s, Jung’s and the other psychiatrists’ research papers, letters, and other historical documents to create their dialogues, discussions and debates presented in the novel.
Freud’s visit to America with Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi to lecture at Clark University is also a real event. Though it is a well-known fact that Dr. Freud developed a certain disdain for America during his first visit, it is not entirely known what had caused these negative feelings. After his first seemingly traumatic visit to New York, Dr. Freud never returned to America.
The Interpretation of Murder gives readers a glimpse of the culture and society of New York at the turn of the century, illustrating the general fear of the irreversible changes brought on by groundbreaking and controversial principles of psychology and human behavior.
Normally I am turned off with novels about real people in fictitious events and situations, but Rubenfeld’s execution of Freud’s, Jung’s and the other historical figures’ involvement in the murder mystery aspect of The Interpretation of Murder was carefully done and in good taste. The different elements in the novel – mystery and suspense, psychology, and literature, works in creating a riveting, intellectual novel.