A lady came to my office. She refused to give her name. . . . What she had to communicate to me was a confession."" So wrote...



A lady came to my office. She refused to give her name. . . . What she had to communicate to me was a confession."" So wrote Carl Jung, in an undated, ""curiously incomplete"" case history in Memories, Dreams, Reflections; and novelist West, putting aside the apocalyptic, quasi-religious concerns that produced The Clowns of God and Proteus, here offers a sturdy filling-out of that case--with the first-person narration constantly moving back and forth between the mysterious patient and the (almost equally troubled) analyst. The novel's first half offers the two characters in the weeks just before their 1913 meeting. Magda Liliane Kardossvon Gamsfeld, a 45-year-old widow and doctor, tells how she has sunk into a life of sexual, violent abandon in Berlin and Paris; she has become panicky after a sado-masochistic encounter that nearly led to a death; she recalls her past as an illegitimate child of the well-to-do--deserted by her mother, raised by her sexually rampant father; she tells of yet another invitation to humiliation (a tycoon wants her as brothel madam); and she broods on the suicidal impulses that drive her to seek a doctor-friend's advice. (""I must either mend my life or end it."") Meanwhile, Jung in Zurich is also preoccupied with death-wishes: he has begun semi-self-analysis with his mistress/assistant Toni Wolff; he has trouble dealing with memories of being raped as a child, feelings which connect to his recent break with Freud; he's torn between lustfulness and love for his family; ""I recognize in myself at least primary schizoid symptoms and manic-depressive cycles."" Then Magda arrives at Jung's home/office, insisting on being treated under a pseudonym. Jung wins her trust by telling his secrets. She starts telling all of hers--some of which (about her father and husband) must be coaxed out of her. The doctor and patient feel mutual sexual attraction. More important, Jung is keenly aware of their shared psychic material (""Even our dreams concord strangely""). But though the thorny analysis seems to start well, Jung soon loses control (""What I dream in secret, she has dared and done""); there's a ""sorry little moment"" of oral sex manquÉ; and Magda will leave, though comforted by Mrs. Jung and perhaps rescued from suicide (an ironic fade-out leaves the question unresolved). West, as earnest as ever, does a hard-working, respectable job here--fitting in chunks of Jungian theory and psychoanalytic history. But though Magda's tale has some sensationalistic grab, and the double-narration provides a bit of taut irony during the analysis, neither of the two characters is fully involving; the static closet-drama that results isn't likely to appeal to the West readers who've enjoyed his theological/philosophical thrillers; and readers who might fancy a fictional Jung biography will probably find this too narrow and feverish.

Pub Date: June 22, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983