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A page-turning novel inspired by the true-life love affair between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law.
It is fin de siècle Vienna and Minna Bernays, an overeducated lady's companion with a sharp, wry wit, is abruptly fired, yet again, from her position. She finds herself out on the street and out of options. In 1895, the city may be aswirl with avant-garde artists and revolutionary ideas, yet a woman's only hope for security is still marriage. But Minna is unwilling to settle. Out of desperation, she turns to her sister, Martha, for help.
Martha has her own problems, six young children, and an absent, disinterested husband who happens to be Sigmund Freud. At this time, Freud is a struggling professor, all but shunned by his peers and under attack for his theories, most of which center around sexual impulses. And while Martha is shocked and repulsed by her husband's "pornographic" work, Minna is fascinated.
Minna is everything Martha is not- intellectually curious, engaging, and passionate. She and Freud embark on what is at first simply an intellectual courtship, yet something deeper is brewing beneath the surface, something Minna cannot escape.
In this sweeping tale of love, loyalty, and betrayal - between a husband and a wife, between sisters - fact and fiction seamlessly blend together, creating a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman and her struggle to reconcile her love for her sister with her obsessive desire for her sister's husband, the mythic father of psychoanalysis.
Not that I don't recognize the man's contributions, but I thought it was "good riddance Freud" once I graduated. He was such an argumentative dour fellow that never could play well with his colleagues. When I saw the title of this book I wondered... "what kind of woman would stir the passions of the (oft called) -- misogynist father of psychoanalysis?"....in light of his unflattering opinions and theories on my females, "how could he carry on a whole affair, knowing that SHE lie next to him at night, envying his penis, dreaming of cigars, snakes, and her daddy?"
Authors, Mack -- a former attorney and Golden Globe winning Producer, and Kaufman -- former staff writer for the LA Times, gave a convincing and enticing reason for setting aside personal views of Freud and choosing this book. In an interview, Mack said, "This story shed so much light on Freud's work and theories. You wonder how the affair affected his ideas. If a Freud scholar were to look at him through the prism of what was going on in his life...it would be very interesting." Verrry interesting. And how would these two ladies, with creative license to speculate, have history treat Herr doctor?
Minna, beautiful, young, unmarried, highly intelligent and willful, has once again voiced her opinion and been fired from her job as a Lady's Companion. In desperation she turns to her sister Martha, Frau Freud, who welcomes her into her home to help with the 6 Freud children. Martha is what you could call a frazzled, buttoned-up, hypochondriacal opiate addict; every pain is exaggerated into some *condition* cured by the drug. *[Not so uncommon in an age where Coke was *the real thing*, because the soft drink contained cocaine ("things go better with Cocoa-Cola, things go better with Coke") and opium/Laudanum, cocaine, etc. were the common prescription for everything from nerves to mouthwash.] Freud has no interest in his wife or putting effort into being a father; he spends his time with his studies and battling his colleagues for prominence. We soon learn Freud has a monkey of his own on his back -- addictions to alcohol, cocaine, and cigars, which would eventually lead to cancer of the mouth and his death.
Frau Freud is repulsed by Sigmund's sexual treatises, seeing them as boring, vulgar, and pornographic. The impressionable Minna shows interest in his works and is soon invited to join him in the alcohol & cocaine-fueled all night discussions. At first just an intellectual affair, Freud pursues Minna, rationalizing the infidelity and betrayal with his own theories of *necessary sexuality* until the admiring young woman gives in -- or is too drugged by the older doctor to think clearly.
As the formula for speculative fiction requires, there is plenty of history and fact that provide both a lens to view Vienna during the turn of the century, and a primer on Freud's theories -- informative but not belabored or technical. The nightly discussions serve as a vehicle to move the story along. The daily social events and the glitterati of the time are mentioned, and the relationship between Freud and Minna progresses. It is when the authors take up their pens and fill in the speculation that the Karmic-smackdown begins. At their clever best, the authors keep just this side of authentic having Minna dishing out some well deserved ethical blows to Freud. Much of the book centers on Minna's inner dialogues as she struggles with the *burden of betrayal,* but Mack and Kaufman don't paint Minna as an infatuated milquetoast willing to accept a sport roll in the hay then sob into her handkerchief. Of course, eventually she does become just another other-woman, but she remains smart and challenging to the bitter end. The sisters relationship is cleverly drawn full circle, with a surprising take on the deceit that will have you wondering if Mr. Freud met his match in Mrs. Freud.
Historical fiction is a genre that I always like reading. I find it entertaining, light, and fun, while also being a little thought provoking; it just isn't my favorite genre. I could easily see fans of the genre giving this a 4* rating. Though this was a little slow to start, I thought Mina's comments about Freud and the double entendre was witty sarcasm that gave the story a modern edge. And, wow, was everybody stoned! The fact is separated from the fiction with a good epilogue that discusses the proof of the affair. For those that enjoyed The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, this is a book I would easily recommend. The writing is easily on par, but I did preferred Hemingway and Wright to Freud as subjects -- more interesting, and likeable. * I heard that Katie Couric highly recommended this book.
19 of 26 people found this review helpful
This book is just one step above an ordinary romance novel. Freud deserves better. Reader's and listeners deserve better.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Freud's Mistress in three words, what would they be?
Informative. Engaging. Interesting.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Why Freud's mistress, of course. Somewhat frustrating character but intriguing nonetheless.
Any additional comments?
There are some dry almost boring moments but overall it's a good read.