Book Review – The Interpretation of Murder

This is a book review for The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. It’s an historical crime novel set in 1909 New York with adult themes.

I’m kind of late to the party where this book is concerned. It’s been out for many years and was received with widespread and critical acclaim. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I believe the fault was almost entirely in my expectations. I’m not sure what I thought the book would be like but I wasn’t expecting something so slow paced and cerebral, even with the inclusion of Freud and his merry men.

The book feels very disjointed. It skips from POV to POV with little warning and no obvious pattern. It quite often drifts off into psychoanalytical discourse, riffing off Freud’s writings to do figurative interpretations of the characters’ dreams and there are occasions when the plot devices just seem too forced to fit into whatever point the characters are trying to make. For all the book is supposed to have Freud as a central character, he’s almost entirely superfluous to the plot. The doctor (Younger) does very little too. It’s mostly the detective (Littleman) doing the work.

The murder itself was cleverly done and I didn’t work out who the villain was in advance, which was a small bonus. If I’d known I think I would have just given up on the book entirely halfway through.

I’m no stranger to psychoanalysis. It’s a field I find fascinating and I even have text books on the subject so my frustration with this book wasn’t through lack of understanding or familiarity with the terms. To be blunt, it felt like the author had written the entire book as an indulgence in his own perceived cleverness. You need at least a basic understanding of Freud to grasp the concepts the author tries to explain so this is not a book for the uninitiated. I think part of my main problem with this book is that he keeps parsing on and on about Hamlet and Shakespeare and how it proves or disproves the Oedipus complex but his whole final argument for it is based on a false premise. He tries to make us believe that Shakespeare foreshadowed the answer to Oedipus in an earlier act and if that is the case the Shakespeare would have been one of the finest psychoanalytical minds of all time. Which he did nothing to prove. The whole Hamlet angle seems superfluous to the plot anyway.

As you can probably tell, this book was (disappointingly) not at all my cup of tea and I don’t know anyone that I would recommend it to.

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