BOOK REVIEW: THE THERAPIST, BY HELENE FLOOD
At first it's the lie that hurts.
A voicemail from her husband tells Sara he's arrived at the holiday cabin. Then a call from his friend confirms he never did.
She tries to carry on as normal, teasing out her clients' deepest fears, but as the hours stretch out, her own begin to surface. And when the police finally take an interest, they want to know why Sara deleted that voicemail.
To get to the root of Sigurd's disappearance, Sara must question everything she knows about her relationship.
Could the truth about what happened be inside her head?
The Therapist, by author Helene Flood, cleverly plays out like a counselling session itself. We are presented with a problem. We explore the problem from different perspectives, different views. Then we begin to unpack the problem, tracing it back to its roots, its cause, the original source. We try to understand it, finding causation where they may be none, or missing key things, consciously or not.
We see this reflected in the slow unpacking of Sara's relationship with her husband, Sigurd. The problem presented is the lie: her husband said he was at a lodge with his friends: his friends say he hasn't arrived yet. Which version is the truth? And why would either side lie?
Sara examines the problem at first - is her husband lying, or is this some drunken prank that the lads think would be funny? Why would her husband lie? Why isn't he answering his phone? Why is the document tube he takes to work missing? Did he say he was going straight to the lodge, or did he say he was dropping in at the office first? Why are things in the house seemingly being disturbed, when Sara is the only one there? Is this all something sinister, or is it the result of the bottle of white wine Sara consumes most nights, erasing her memory and generating angst?
Then Sigurd turns up dead, and Sara has to move into the second phase of the therapeutic relationship; the root causes.
Over the course of the novel we join Sara in searching for these root causes of Sigurd's behaviour. This process takes us through key events in their relationship, with each unravelling layer resulting in more questions, as well as doubt surrounding Sara's reliability as a narrator.
At times, Sara is an unlikeable character. She can be cold, clinical, and almost lacking in external expression of emotion. Her relationship with the police is frustrating (just bloody ask them what's going on for goodness sake, and stop going off on your own tangent), and she makes some decisions that seem unfounded. However, given her declining mental state throughout the novel, I suppose I can understand how her mind at the time thought these were good decisions to make.
Set in Norway, the bleak climate and the semi-destitute, cold house in which Sara is forced to live match the coldness that often emanates from Sara. Together, it creates a creeping, suspenseful atmosphere, where you're not sure who to trust, or who is telling the truth. Author Flood raises interesting questions about crime and punishment in Norwegian society, as well as the morals and ethics involved in police work.
Overall, The Therapist is an entertaining read, an ideal book for holiday consumption. The book is pegged as "psychological domestic scandi noir" but I feel it just misses the mark, being a more diluted domestic thriller set in Norway than pure psychological noir. I'm not sure why, but it just lacked that fundamental darkness. For me, the twist required a lot of suspended belief, and it felt a little lacklustre, bordering on the ridiculous. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the slow-burning, unravelling nature of The Therapist, and I very much look forward to more of Helene Flood's work.
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About the Author
Helene Flood is a psychologist who obtained her doctoral degree on violence, revictimization, and trauma-related shame and guilt in 2016. She now works as a psychologist and researcher at the National Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress. She lives in Oslo with her husband and two children.