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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > Jan/Feb 2018 > Mind games

Mind games

A psychiatrist uses his traumatized wife as fodder for his psychotropic experiments in Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s terrifying thriller

Hysteria Elisabeth de Mariaffi HarperCollins When approaChing Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s taut and propulsive psychological thriller, it’s helpful to look at the controversial history of hysteria a s a medical d iagnosis, which has been used to degrade and control women for millennia. The word derives from the Greek root hystera, meaning “uterus”; historically, physicians attributed any erratic female behaviour to spontaneous movements of the womb. Sigmund Freud, whose theories dominated psychiatry for most of the 20th century, believed that the uncontrolled behaviour of the hysteric was as an outlet for thwarted sexual impulses. Today, hysteria is no longer an accepted medical diagnosis, but the label persists as a way to demean and dismiss women who express outbursts of emotion.

This is the case for Heike Lerner, the protagonist of de Mariaffi’s terrifying sophomore novel. Heike is a fragile and tender-hearted woman, originally from Dresden, who in the years following the Second World War suffers what today would be understood as posttraumatic stress disorder. Remembering the violence a nd losses that she a nd her family experienced during and after the war, Heike muses, “The blood remembers: what’s lost to the mind is not lost to the body.”

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