- Book: The Therapist
- Location: Norway, Oslo
- Author: Helene Flood
Interestingly this is the second, recently published book with the same title that I have read this past month; the previous novel was set in Finsbury Park and written by B A Paris. Each novel, of course, features a therapist, mysterious deaths and perplexing circumstances, but that is where the similarities end.
This is a ponderous novel that is also, in part, a family saga. Sara is living with her husband Sigurd in Oslo. They have been bequeathed their rather run-down house through family death and as a young couple they are keen to start renovations. However with work commitments and financial constraints, the building improvements soon grind to a halt and the book opens with Sara padding to the bathroom across chipboard tiles and pallets that serve as a temporary floor covering. The descriptions of the interior of the house, in its unfinished and raw state, could almost be the physical manifestation of the protagonist’s inner consciousness – a metaphor if you will – functional but with the finishing touches missing.
Sara continues to have a perfunctory relationship with her father and to be honest, no-one in her immediate circle seems to particularly engage with her – maybe her sister is the exception; but they have not really been close over the years. It is almost as though Sara is going through the motions of life, her emotional defences are entrenched, and at times she is quite inscrutable. As a reader, we spend some time within the confines of her head, slightly wincing at her summary, critical and reflexive responses both on a personal and professional level. She is the therapist of the title, who seemingly can’t wait to see the end of the day and to close the door behind her irritating, adolescent patients. I am guessing the author has crafted the character of Sara to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.
Sigurd has left on this particular Friday morning to go and spend the weekend with his mates in a cabin. Mid morning he sends a text to her to say he has arrived safely. In the evening one of his friends rings to say he hasn’t arrived. Is someone playing a trick or should Sara be really worried? She gets herself so wound up that she deletes Sigurd’s text. Neither the police nor I could really get behind this particular action, even if she was in turmoil and angry and worried.
This is very much a slow burning whodunnit, with a backstory of family to add interest. I couldn’t warm to poor old Sara, but then that was perhaps intentional.
I did feel that the story progressed quite well but there was a woodenness to the narrative which didn’t appeal to me. Whether that is due to the original writing style or to translation issues, I cannot tell. For example, the police arrived on a doorstep to announce their discovery of a body – a murder victim no less – of someone very close; I can’t imagine they would say: “we have some sad news”, I feel it would surely be ‘bad news‘? And gosh, there were a lot of sandwiches eaten throughout 😉.
But on a more serious note I persevered to the end. I am now reflecting on what I have read and I feel there is a depth to the book that at first perhaps isn’t altogether apparent. There is something that hooks the reader in. There are certainly some unexpected twists! The writing also has a real sense of atmosphere. Overall, however, it was just a little too far fetched and somehow impenetrable. The sense of place was quite strong and added to the slightly bleak nature of the storyline and its characters.