I enjoyed reading this book and he tells a good story but I’m not sure what’s there beneath the surface. Basically, a semi retired psychoanalyst gets invited to a Mediterranean island by a mysterious old benefactor so, thus far, we are in ‘Magus’ territory. Their conversations start to unlock the narrator’s memories and it turns out that this is a book about how we remember and the way that we file, select and retrieve those memories. Then, we get quite a few of the narrator’s memories coming to the surface – his dad dying in the First World War, him being wounded in the Second, various missed sexual opportunities, his problems in forming relationships and his true love. It is pretty clear that the narrator is blocked (unable to live properly in the present because of the past) but we are sent off on several wild goose chases to explain why as you uncover the story behind how his father died and he was wounded as well as about the love interest.
I suppose because the narrator is a bit of an old codger he’s going to have some funny opinions but as a reader I got a bit fed up with him. He’s enjoyed some odd things and surfaces some peculiar memories like peeing with the chaps on the drive after a Hunt Ball and kissing some Belgian girl who is turned on by being invaded by sweaty soldiers. His wartime memories, both his and those reported by his dad, are sort of oddly class ridden as if both conflicts took place in the dorm with some oiks to help. He is one step away from talking about ‘good chaps’ and ‘buying it over Anzio’! I got the impression there was some Sebastian Faulks in there as well with a bit of an obsession about younger women and voluptuous, heavy thighs.
In the end, the narrator gets unblocked by a quite unrelated intervention (mentioned on about page 25 but not followed up) and he finds out that it was all to do with love and romance. I felt that if this was my problem I would have known about and done something about it but it all turns out for the best and there is a happy ending which I thought was a little contrived. I should also mention the subplot about curing schizophrenia with fevers. I don’t know if that’s feasible or has been tried but it is worth saying the book is compassionate in its dealings with the mentally ill.