Freud's Final Thoughts Intriguing Novel Explores His Last Days
Wolfe, Reviewed Peter, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
A novel by D.M. Thomas
231 pages, Carroll & Graf, $21
`EATING PAVLOVA" unfolds during the painful last days of Dr. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Suffering from cancer of the jaw, the great psychoanalyst is thinking about his imminent death. But delirium alternates with consciousness, and the morphine he gets to quiet his pain discloses truths that, though more vital than those proffered by factual reality, are also harder to face.
Of the data he shares with us he says, "I scarcely know which is memory and which the recent dream." His mind drifts; free association takes his thoughts from Jewish esoterica to numerology; the threatening symbols of the forest and the railroad train invade his dreams; he sees that various events in his life have dovetailed: He started his self-analysis the same year his father died.
One of the novel's outstanding feats is the way Thomas joins this data. Besides razing barriers imposed by the dream-wake dualism, Freud's semi-stupor denies the passage of years, gender difference and the closed-ended-ness of identity itself. His morphine shots either dredging up or distorting truths he'd normally suppress, he sees his life bereft of guidelines and definitions. His parents' ages when they married, 40 and 19, made his father a grandfather of sorts and gave the sons from Jacob's first marriage a paternal aura.
Such revelations fret him. Like an Old Testament patriarch, the author of the controversial "Moses and Monotheism" finds himself afflicted in his old age. He likens himself to stricken elders like Oedipus and King Lear, while identifying certain family members with figures from the Bible, Shakespeare and Greek myth. This identification sharpens his pain. The same family tie that grows in importance as the novel moves forward reveals itself to be tainted by gender confusion and adultery, incest and suicide; the death of Freud's 20-year-old "golden grandchild" gives him a shock from which he never recovers. …