Creeping schizophrenia takes the reins of a young doctor’s mind in this subtle psychological mystery.
Simon Felsper, a medical student in London during the 1950s, has a preternaturally soothing bedside manner that makes him a favorite with patients. He also has, according to a psychiatry lecture he attends, the symptoms of a schizophrenic—an obsession with good-luck rituals; an authoritative voice in his head whom he dubs One; a penchant for biblical-sounding pronouncements like “You are the chosen one”; and a feeling that he is the target of a vague plot by one of his classmates, an aristocratic rake with the deceptively harmless nickname of Badger. When he is exiled to San Francisco after a run-in with Badger, Simon’s medical practice swells along with his sense of destiny. Convinced by One’s declarations that he is an enlightened soul, Simon believes that he can cure vague pains and malaise just by laying on his hands—and soon a devoted following of patients agrees. Yet he can’t shake the influence, real or imagined, of Badger, whose tentacles extend to a senior colleague and a high-priced call girl whom Simon is seeing and eventually entangle Simon in a murder. The author makes this odd, potentially claustrophobic story into an entertaining, slightly satirical novel of manners with noir-ish overtones, as Simon’s sensitive, grandiose perspective plays off the prosaic, crass outlooks of the people around him in a symphony of mutual incomprehension. Brooke tells the yarn with a dry wit, sharp-eyed prose and a knack for vibrant characterizations. (Badger, a confection of bluster, bonhomie and sly malice, is indelible.) The author is also a neurologist, and one of the book’s manifold pleasures is its well-observed portrait of the medical culture of 50 years ago, when authoritarian doctors treated patients with exquisite disdain. Brooke gives us a shrewd, absorbing study of a sensitive soul drawn into paranoid delusions that may not be so far-fetched.
An entertaining tale of an off-kilter mind coping with shady surroundings, told with literary flair.