Anna Freud’s fictional memoirs reflect a far-from-normal upbringing.
Blurring fact and fiction, with a dollop of shtick and long explanations of Sigmund Freud's psychosexual theory of behavior, this debut novel examines the life of Freud's youngest daughter, Anna. A loner whose mother makes little impression on her childhood, Anna spends much of her time at her prominent father’s side. By 13, she's knowledgeable about psychoanalysis and conversant with many of her father’s patients and colleagues, including Carl Jung, who attends a meeting of Freud’s Wednesday Psychological Society and attempts to psychoanalyze his host. Anna spends her formative years struggling with episodes of depression and anorexia and closely examining her own sexuality. She becomes one of her father’s analysands, takes her place on his couch and describes a recurring fantasy about a boy with golden curls who’s beaten by a man. She feels betrayed when her father treats her as a subject and publicizes her fantasy at a psychoanalytic congress. Although she ends their sessions, her attachment to her father remains strong, and she eventually returns to analysis. Freud's theories famously emphasize the role of sexual desires and repression of childhood memories. He encourages Anna to work with children, and she rises to prominence for her work as a child psychoanalyst. She also engages in a long-term relationship with Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, the married daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Coffey has created a stimulating interpretation of the Freud family through Anna’s eyes while eliciting an occasional chuckle; but sometimes she seems torn between being funny and attempting a more traditional telling of her story.
The humor sprinkled throughout the book seems slightly out of context with the frank discussions of Freudian theory.