David Collard

A Waking Dreamer

Playthings

By Alex Pheby

Galley Beggar Press 235pp £11 order from our bookshop

‘In my belly is an octopus and in it are God’s children. Living children. These are things I must not speak of.’ These are the startling words of a German judge named Daniel Paul Schreber (1842–1911), an educated, cultivated and highly intelligent member of the legal establishment who went mad at the age of forty-two. Schreber’s case is remembered today because of his remarkable Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, written during a later period of lucidity and published in 1903. His book snagged the attention of Freud, who remarked that the author ought to be appointed director of a mental hospital. Freud’s view – much contested – was that Schreber’s psychosis was an expression of his repressed homosexuality and that his delusional paranoia originated in unpleasant childhood experiences. The memoir remains an important text in the history of psychoanalysis because of the clarity and candour of Schreber’s account and because of the astonishing range and complexity of his disorder. The case and the memoir form the basis for Playthings, Alex Pheby’s brilliant, compelling and profoundly disturbing novel.

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