A highly detailed, emotional plunge into the mind of a disturbed man.
Englishman Pheby’s (Grace, 2009) unique second novel draws on a famous psychiatric case from the 19th century for its main character, Daniel Paul Schreber, a judge of the High Court of Saxony. In 1903, Schreber wrote Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, which became a subject of interest to other novelists as well as Sigmund Freud. Pheby’s novel picks up Schreber’s story later, when he suffers a third bout of mental illness. There are echoes of Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” and Franz Kafka’s nightmarish writings. Writing in the third person in a semi–stream of consciousness manner, Pheby invites us to enter deep into Schreber’s mind as he experiences frustrations, delusions, and fantasies. The novel opens with Schreber frantically searching his house for his wife, Sabine. He finds her on the floor; she’s had a seizure: “What was this? This panting thing? Moaning...grinning mannequin...his wife’s form, but without her soul.” He leaves the house and wanders around, encountering various people on the streets. His daughter, Fridoline, tries to get him to come back; he refuses. He then finds himself in a hospital under the care of Müller, an orderly, and Dr. Rössler, who has read Schreber’s memoir. Pheby meticulously chronicles Schreber’s treatment and his recurring nightmares and tortuous memories of his strict father, who probably mistreated his children. Schreber ruminates on religion—was he a mere “plaything of the Lower God?” A mysterious Jewish gentleman, who may or may not be real, haunts him. Schreber is the book’s sole focus, always front and center, but that center is askew.
An intense, immersive reading experience that provides real insight into those afflicted with severe mental illness.