Title: Dreaming for Freud
Author: Sheila Kohler
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 229
First line: He sits at his desk in his study, sucking on his cigar.
Goodreads blurb: In the fall of 1900, Dora’s father forces her to begin treatment with the doctor. Visiting him daily, the seventeen-year-old girl lies on his ottoman and tells him frankly about her strange life, and above all about her father’s desires as far as she is concerned. But Dora abruptly ends her treatment after only eleven weeks, just as Freud was convinced he was on the cusp of a major discovery. In Dreaming for Freud, Kohler explores what might have happened between the man who changed the face of psychotherapy and the beautiful young woman who gave him her dreams.
Ick. That is the first word (is that a word?!) that comes to mind when I think about this book. Historical fiction based on an actual historical figure is usually one of my favorite genres, but this book simply turned me off. I was really interested in the premise, but in retrospect, I probably should have passed on the review copy. I’ve always been a bit squeamish about Freud, with his tendency to assume every impulse, thought, or psychosis has a sexual component, and so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I disliked him as a fictional character.
Dora’s story is based on one of Freud’s most famous cases, although Kohler takes some literary liberties and makes some choices that transform the book into more than a fictional retelling of Dora’s analysis. She writes well, although there is a spare quality to her prose that I find impersonal – it seemed to distance me from the characters. Dora herself isn’t an entirely sympathetic character, either, and I think it is hard to emotionally connect with a book when you feel apathetic toward the main characters.