By Patrick McGrath.
Published by Bloomsbury at 14.99 euro.
Reviewed by Sue Leonard.
Published in The Irish Examiner. 19th July 2008.
A psychiatrist, Charlie Weir works with a group of traumatised war veterans after their return from Vietnam. Through therapy, they learn to face their trauma, before they can reach normality, and the timing is crucial.
So when the worst affected, Danny, shoots himself soon after Charlie has pushed him to remember, Charlie is convinced it is all his fault. Charlie’s wife, Agnes thinks so too; and that matters, because Danny was her much loved brother. So Charlie leaves the marital home, becomes depressed, and lives only for his work.
Trauma opens after the death of Charlie’s mother. She’s a depressive whose husband abandoned her, and Charlie adored her. He spent his childhood looking after her, cheering her each time she sank into an alcoholic stupor. His mother though, didn’t return this affection, making it clear that it was her elder son, Walter, whom she revered.
Narrated in the first person by Charlie, the novel follows the psychiatrist through the succeeding months. Professionally solid, his personal life spirals ever more out of control, and this, we are shown, is mainly due to his weak emotional health.
Dreaming of returning to Agnes, and to his eight year old daughter Cassie, Charlie nevertheless becomes embroiled with a beauty called Nora. She, though, is disturbed to the point of derangement, and the relationship starts to slip into one of therapist and patient.
This isn’t the first time that McGrath has tackled the issue of passionate insanity. Through his novels and short stories he has made the gothic, and the twisted love story his own.
This time, his venture has been especially successful. Charlie is an enlightening narrator, as he analyses his every thought and mood. He makes the reader understand the tricky profession of psychiatry; and how over analysis can impinge onto the personal too.
But is Charlie right in thinking that Walter is constantly out to get him? And what of his recurring nightmares of Danny’s death? Are they the cause of his trouble, or are there deeper secrets to be unearthed from his past?
Powerfully written and structured, Trauma is a character driven novel which will keep the reader intrigued from the first page. And towards the end, when Charlie’s mental state is heading towards the abyss, the book becomes the best possible literary thriller.
© Sue Leonard. 2008. .