Therapy by Sebastian Fitzek opens in the waiting room of a doctor's surgery. Acclaimed celebrity psychiatrist and father of Josy, Viktor Larenz is there with his daughter to see allergy specialist Dr Grohlke. He is the twenty-second doctor on Larenz's list as twelve year old Josy has been ill for some time and no doctor has been able to come up with a diagnosis or effective treatment yet.
But soon we are embroiled in the maelstrom of Larenz's panic as Josy goes missing. Fact, reality, perception and the spurious are thrown into the pot, as we wonder what is the truth of the circumstances of that day.
Roll on a few years and Larenz is conversing with a younger psychiatrist now treating him. The disappearance of his daughter has obviously caused more than a breakdown from which he could recover. The novel progresses with a mix of third person narrative where Larenz is slowly recounting his experience to the psychiatrist and first person narrative where Larenz provides more detailed flashbacks directly to the reader.
How did Larenz come to be strapped to a bed for his own safety, discussing whether he can come off his meds with the psychiatrist? This is the story that is eeked out in the novel, chapter by chapter, viewpoint by viewpoint – and what a story. I may have said "eeked out", but we are not talking "slow" here.
Larenz has lost his daughter; his marriage has broken down; his ability to function and work as a psychiatrist has been lost. He escapes to Parkum, a remote island, where he suddenly encounters one Anna Glass, a novelist who seeks his help. She is a schizophrenic whose characters become real to her. Larenz is no longer working, but Glass relates one of her stories and it seems to shed light on Josy's disappearance, pulling in a reluctant Larenz…
This is a psychological thriller based on psychology and mental illness. Its beauty lies in its ability to throw in a curve ball at the start of every chapter once the history of the case gets going. Thought you were going down one particular avenue? No sirree. Something else will open the next chapter, only to have you sitting in a maze and wanting the next clue.
As for the ending, this is one I could not have predicted. It really bites from behind with no anticipation and proves to be a very sad outcome, for which I felt emotionally engaged.
It's been said many times that "the mind moves in mysterious ways" and this novel takes that theme forensically and makes it a bit of a classic, in my mind. I dare you to anticipate the outcome, when you read this novel.
Fitzek is a journalist and is now Head of Programming at RTL, Berlin's leading radio station. His three novels, to date, have become bestsellers in Germany. Therapy knocked Dan Brown off the bestsellers' list in Germany when it came out.
But let's get a bit personal here. This is the first novel I've read where the acknowledgements start with acknowledgements to the readers and you do have to warm to the author, as a result:
"First and foremost, I'd like to thank you, the reader. Not because I have to, but because I think we share a certain solidarity. Reading and writing are solitary and intensely personal activities, and I'm honoured to be the recipient of the most valuable gift in the world: your time. Especially if you've made it all the way through to these acknowledgements…"
[Finally, just one gripe on the translation. The removal of an appendix is an "appendectomy".]