“Where Three Roads Meet”

Suzi Feay interviewed Salley Vickers for The Independent on 4.11.07:

“…Where Three Roads Meet takes the form of a dialogue between the dying Freud, sitting in his Hampstead study, and a mysterious guest who has wandered in from the heath, who doesn’t seem to be visible to anyone else, and who is eventually revealed to be Tiresias, the blind seer who witnessed the original tragedy. Or is Freud’s mind wandering?

Thoughout the dialogue, the sunshine of civilised conversation is undercut by the darkest shadows of the mind. Freud has just narrowly escaped the clutches of the Nazis and the mouth cancer for which he takes morphine is to kill him in a matter of months. Tiresias, the ancient spirit who talks to the birds on the heath, and who seems to appear when his auditor most needs distraction from pain, nevertheless evokes all the horror of an ancient crime, and of those dark, irrational forces known as the gods. It’s a thoroughly creepy story…

“Oedipus is a central myth for psychoanalysts,” she says over coffee. “When I came to train, obviously we talked about it and I thought, Freud’s not read it correctly!…”…

Laios, the pugnacious king of Thebes, is warned by the oracle at Delphi that his son will kill him, so he persuades his wife to expose their baby, his ankles cruelly pierced with pins. The crippled child (Oedi-pous means ” swollen feet” in Greek) is saved by a passing herdsman and adopted by the royal family of Corinth. Everything goes well until the strapping young man meets an obnoxious older man at the place where the Delphi, Corinth and Thebes roads converge, and kills him in a fit of rage.

Vickers’ view of Freud has changed over the book’s genesis. “I think he had great personal qualities. He had amazing courage,” she notes gravely, especially when facing the cancer that was to kill him in 1939. “He had this idea he could stay and outface the Nazis. He never knew that his sisters who he’d left behind all died in concentration camps.”

What she was trying to do in the book, she explains, “was to pitch two different views of reality against each other and show how both are valid and can in fact illuminate each other, so it’s genuine Socratic dialogue”. There’s an irony running through Freud’s work, she points out: “He’s a tremendous exponent of the rational, yet he’s the chief portrait-painter of the irrational…

Psychoanalysis, which she no longer practises since the publication of her second novel in 2001, has become “very, very codified”, she maintains. “I would work quite happily in a room like this with books and pictures and flowers, but a lot of people, particularly Kleinians, work in an absolutely blank environment so that you can’t read anything about them into it. But if you look at Freud’s consulting room – well, I’d like to say it’s like this! It’s full of the most wonderful artefacts – my God, he had an eye. Beautiful Turkish rugs, bits and bobs, masses of books… So the clinical image of a psychoanalyst working with a simple couch and chair has arisen out of nothing. It certainly wasn’t anything Freud suggested.”…”

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