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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lions at Lamb House

Edwin M. Yoder jr.

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To purchase Lions at Lamb House

Title: Lions at Lamb House
Author: Edwin M. Yoder jr.
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 236 pages
Availability: Lions at Lamb House - US
Lions at Lamb House - UK
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  • Freud's 'Lost' Analysis of Henry James

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable enough historical novel, but not quite up to all its ambitions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chicago Sun-Times . 7/10/2007 Debra Bruno
The LA Times . 2/9/2007 Susan Salter Reynolds
The Washington Post . 19/9/2007 Wendy Lesser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Historical fiction based on a character who lived so quiet a life is a risky business. (...) But Yoder chooses to tell the story through the perspective of Horace Briscoe, a young James scholar who spends the summer at Lamb House. Briscoe flits about the edges of this lion's den, as the two men parry their way through what must have been the least-effective shrink session in history." - Debra Bruno, Chicago Sun-Times

  • "From the moment Freud steps off the train, Edwin M. Yoder Jr. transports the reader. He has fun watching James (on the couch) trying to outsmart "the Viennese sage" in his lascivious quest for James' "secret alcove."" - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Still, if you grant the premise, you can find enjoyable insights here. Yoder is particularly strong on two important qualities that defined James as a novelist: his tendency to be silent about the things that most required ambiguity, and his ability to insert a certain amount of comedy into even the most serious and desperate of situations." - Wendy Lesser, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Lions at Lamb House Edwin Yoder has Sigmund Freud comes to visit Henry James at Lamb House in the summer of 1908. It's an historic moment -- not only the meeting of two great men, but because it also leads to a (courteous) confrontation: the artist v. the shrink, the creative mind pitted against the analytic one. Yes, as Freud observes:

For the first time, so far as I am aware, a great writer is to be psychoanalyzed, and not from a text or a painting or sculpture. Who knows what the repercussions will be in ages to come ?
       Who knows, indeed ? But Yoder suggests they might have been great: the novel also includes two brief sections from 1941, where another person present at Lamb House in 1908, Horace Briscoe, considers how to react to the Freud-heirs' efforts to erase this case from history. Yes, worried that this "aberrational musing ... so full of heresy" (so apparently Marie Bonaparte's opinion of Freud's record of the case) could seriously undermine Freud's reputation and the future of psychoanalysis, they want to hush its contents up.
       Yoder allows everyone to have their say, offering accounts of what happened in the form of everything from James' letters to Edith Wharton to some of Freud's case notes, along with a good deal of omniscient narration -- though much of that is focussed on young Horace's impressions (and his own side-story). The pièce de résistance, as it were, saved for the end, is Freud's controversial write-up of the case, Yoder gamely taking a stab at imitating Freud (rather than just suggesting what the contents are, or offering just a few selected quotes). Indeed, Yoder sets himself quite the ventriloquist-challenge throughout the novel, as he tries to get the voices of James and Freud down, not just in speech but also in writing. For the most part little here sounds truly convincingly Jamesian or, especially, Freudian, but the story is light and quick enough that that doesn't harm the novel too much.
       Yoder wisely chose to focus much of his attention on young Horace (and his budding love-affair), and make a bigger deal out of some of the local and domestic issues rather than focussing solely on James and Freud's verbal jousting. Still, that's meant to be the heart of the novel and much of the analysis is recounted (and it's amusing to be told how each side sees these encounters), but Yoder's grand ambition -- and the consequences he wants Freud to see here -- hardly convince. It makes for an odd mix of novel-of-ideas and historical fiction, with Yoder trying too hard (and ineffectually) to support his main thrust with the lesser tangents: the girl Horace falls in love with, her uncle, the local gossip, Edith Wharton (kept off-stage, but in frequent touch with James), and too much more.
       Yoder writes well enough -- for the most part -- that it's an entertaining enough read, with quite a few quite humorous bits. The mysteries the novel is meant to pose -- what (if anything) is wrong with Henry ? what was it about these sessions that almost caused Freud to practically disown psychoanalysis ? what will become of Horace and Agnes ? -- are presented in a way that certainly holds the reader's interest, but everything also seems a bit too neat and tidy.
       Lions at Lamb House is enjoyable, with Yoder knowledgeable enough about James, Freud, and the times to offer a decent picture of what such an historic encounter might have been like, but given its very large ambitions the novel does fall short.

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Lions at Lamb House: Reviews: Henry James: Sigmund Freud: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Edwin M. Yoder jr. was a Rhodes Scholar and has won a Pulitzer Prize.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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