HELENE FLOOD’S THERAPIST: A THRILLER WHOSE SOLUTION LIES BURIED IN WHAT MEMORIES CAN’T REVEAL
In the dark of the early morning, Sara Lathus’ husband Sigurd kisses her on the forehead, off early for a weekend with friends at a holiday cabin. A few hours later, he leaves a voicemail on her phone while she is working, telling her he’s arrived and all is well. Ten hours later, she gets a text from Sigurd’s friends, asking if she’s heard from him, since he was supposed to meet them that afternoon, but he still hasn’t arrived. And late in the evening, after some wine and in a fit of pique, Sara deletes the original voicemail.
That’s the opening of The Therapist, a psychological thriller with a twist: Sara is a psychologist and we’ve sat through her patient interviews between the crucial messages. In the hands of author Helene Flood, who is also a psychologist, Sara’s training and her own persistent self-examination is the driving force behind the story, to the point where the reader considers the old adage about doctors healing themselves, as well as the very real possibility that some of what Sara is narrating may not be exactly how it happened.
Which is what makes it fascinating. As a thriller the novel works because the materials for “solving” the mystery are there, almost like a classic whodunit. But because the reader becomes, in effect, a therapist, trying to analyse Sara’s thoughts and memories, as well as the events as they place and as she sees them, the story becomes more cloudy. Sara is an isolated person; when she met Sigurd she was a student in Bergen, away from her own Oslo family, which suited her, and much of the story takes place in flashback, with Bergen being her safe place while Oslo much less so with its memories and its unsatisfying present. We learn of her mother’s death, from early onset Alzheimer’s and we wonder if Sara might be an unreliable narrator of a very clinical sort.
Because she is also alone, not just after her husband disappears, but increasingly in the marriage. She works from home, has no colleagues nor friends. Sigurd is an architect, and they are supposed to be refurbishing an old house which he inherited, but the pressures of his job mean much of the house remains in a state of flux, with repairs and rebuilding ground to a halt. It is a metaphor for their marriage itself…