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Partridge, S. (2014). The Uninvited Guest from the Unremembered Past: An Exploration of the Unconscious Transmission of Trauma Across the Generations (2011) by Prophecy Coles, published by Karnac: The Hidden Extra-Familial Sources of Early Trauma. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 8(3):319-322.

(2014). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 8(3):319-322

The Uninvited Guest from the Unremembered Past: An Exploration of the Unconscious Transmission of Trauma Across the Generations (2011) by Prophecy Coles, published by Karnac: The Hidden Extra-Familial Sources of Early Trauma

Review by:
Simon Partridge

It is strange how certain books fall into one's hands just at the right moment. Such was the case with Prophecy Coles's The Uninvited Guest from the Unremembered Past. Having spent several years exploring the disabling consequences of being sent away to boarding school at six years old (Partridge, 2007, 2013), an event occurred in my life that plunged me into a much earlier period, which then became a precursor for the privileged abandonment of boarding school. An “A-ha” moment dawned when I came to the relevant chapter in Coles's book—more of which later.

I found this a path-breaking book because Coles has identified and focused on all too common occurrences that lead to experiences of disabling trauma, but which have often not been identified as the sources. She helpfully locates the “melody” of her book in Selma Fraiberg's concept of the “ghost in the nursery” (Fraiberg, 1978, p. 100), though she also borrows half her title from Freud's comment that “one should not make theories—they should arrive unexpectedly like uninvited guests, while one is busy investigating details”. (Freud, 1915, pp. 73-74) Unfortunately Freud did not practice what he preached and was only too prone to invent theories on the flimsiest of evidence—the invention of the Oedipus complex, so central to psychoanalysis, being a classic case (Breger, 2009). In many respects Coles's book is a critique of the intra-psychic assumptions of orthodox Freudian metapsychology, the simplicities of which, in popular culture at least, we are still struggling to free ourselves from.

The book casts its net wide in less than a hundred pages. It is divided into seven chapters and the first five pursue themes of loss and abandonment from “several generations ago”, quite often focusing on the effects of war (that also rang a bell with me, stirring memories of my father's own wartime traumas that were completely ignored in my orthodox analyses despite my recurring “crashing plane” dreams). The first two chapters tap into the historical myths of Aeschylus's Oresteia and Sophocles's Oedipus Rex.

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