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Saturday, March 13, 2010 4:56 pm
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr

If I were to tell you that the book The Listener by Shira Nayman was about the chief psychiatrist at an institution called Shadowbrook, you might jump to the conclusion that he will be the control agent in the story.

Not here.  Dr. Harry Harrison is one of my favorite characters types when preparing for a book discussion:  he is unreliable.  Sometimes this type of narrator tries to disguise this from his readers, but not Harry.  He is a mess from the beginning of this book.   Eventually readers will have to assess his compulsive behavior, his drug addiction and his sexual peculiarities. 

Nayman does not relax with her creation of Harrison.  Instead she creates two more memorable characters.  The first is Harry’s nemesis, Bertram Reiner.  Reiner is a biochemist who has checked himself into Shadowbrook with a case of war neurosis just two years after WWII.  But there is so much more to this character then is first revealed.  While the battle fatigue is evident, Bertram must also deal with false memories, possible imaginary characters, and a combative relationship with Dr. Harrison. 

The second memorable character is Matilda Willoughby.  Without intending to be so, she serves as a catalyst for what goes wrong in the relationship between the two men.  Also a veteran of WWII, she proves to have as many twists and turns to her life as either of the men. 

There is a Gothic feel to this story with the haunted grounds of Shadowbrook making an eerie setting.  While the book is a historical, it has even a greater sense of time travel to it when it travels to an opium den.  There is more to the Gothic nature then the setting:  it extends to the way the characters interact and to the atmosphere established by the dialog. 

This book works for a discussion on the thematic level as well.  Whether it is dealing with the consequences of war, the nature of love or the proper treatment of individuals challenged by life, the book will provide more than enough issues to propel a book discussion.

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