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Jacobs, T.J. (1983). The White Hotel: By D. M. Thomas. New York: Viking Press, 1981. 274 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 52:132-136.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 52:132-136

The White Hotel: By D. M. Thomas. New York: Viking Press, 1981. 274 pp.

Review by:
Theodore J. Jacobs

Although the fictional psychoanalytic case history has by now become a familiar literary device, in The White Hotel D. M. Thomas has accomplished what no other author has attempted: he has written a case history in the style of Freud. That he has done this in a thoroughly delightful, stylistically faithful, and altogether intriguing way is one of the notable achievements of this fascinating work.

It is, however, only one of the remarkable features of a remarkable book. In this study of a fictional patient of Freud's, whose life spans the momentous events of the twentieth century, Thomas immerses his character—and the reader—in the world of psychoanalysis as it was practiced by Freud sixty years ago.

The case is that of Lisa Erdman, a young woman with severe hysterical symptoms who, at the age of twenty-nine, seeks help from Freud. Written in the mode of Freud's early histories (particularly that of Elizabeth von R.), the "case report" presents a complex and intriguing symptom and then unravels it in a way that not only is worthy of Freud's best literary style, but is psychologically convincing and consistent with the analytic understanding of that period.

Born in Russia, Lisa is a gifted young musician who lost her mother in a tragic fire when she was barely five years old. Feeling rejected by an aloof father, she makes her way at a young age to St. Petersburg where she comes under the influence of a kindly and maternal voice teacher. Ultimately, she marries and is prospering in her life and career when she is stricken by a strange and incapacitating illness. Rather suddenly, she is afflicted with severe pains on the left side of her body, experiences almost total loss of appetite and profound lassitude, and falls into a state of depression that leads her to the brink of self-destruction.

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