Published in hardback December 12th 2019 and paperback July 9th 2020 by Sceptre
A psychiatrist is counting down towards his upcoming retirement. He lives alone in his childhood home and has neither friends nor family.
Often, he resorts to drawing bird caricatures of his patients instead of taking notes. His social life consists of brief conversations with his meticulous secretary Madame Surrugue, who has reigned over the clinic for more than thirty years. The two of them have no relationship outside the office, where everything runs smoothly and uneventfully.
Until one day, that is, when a young German woman called Agatha arrives and demands to see the doctor and he soon realises that underneath her fragile exterior is a strong and fascinating woman. The doctor and Agatha embark upon a course of therapy together, a process that forces the doctor to confront his fear of true intimacy outside the clinic. But is it too late to reconsider your existence as a 71-year-old?
I found this a quick but interesting read. I wasn’t quiet sure what to expect from it but I think the best way I could describe it is that it is a book that makes you think and consider rather than one that full of a pacy plot. A short novel at only 147 pages but an even quicker one to read as there is quiet a lot of spacing out of chapters.
We follow our unnamed narrator, which seems to be very much a trend at the moment, as he counts down his days, appointment by appointment, until his upcoming retirement. A psychiatrist who clearly has lost almost all of his determination to help anyone, he spends many of his appointments with clients just doodling into his note book. However, some of his patients seem to attend his clinic for no more than someone to talk to, rather than more major problems, and perhaps this has gone towards his lose of empathy. A loner, it seems, he has no interaction with his neighbour and no real relationship with his secretary, Madame Surrugue, who has worked for him for over 30 years!
One day Madame Surrugue makes an appointment for a new patient. The doctor is annoyed with this as he has specifically said not to do this, due to him retiring very soon and more than likely unable to complete their treatment himself. However, the new client returns and insists on seeing the doctor and the appointment is kept. The new patient is Agatha, a German woman with a history of self-harm. The doctor is at first unsure if he can help, but he soon realises that he has started to ‘enjoy’ her visits and so begins a short tale of this old man, afraid of what retirement will mean to his already uneventful life, begin to re-evaluate the few people he has in it, and remind himself of the suffering of others and how, with simple actions, he can help them, in turn, perhaps even helping himself.
I found this a very gentle and subtle read but one with a deep heart that looks into the interactions people can have with one another. It also reminds us all that however big or small a problem, everyone can benefit from a listening ear and an encouraging nod in the right direction.
**********ABOUT THE AUTHOR**********
Anne Cathering Bomann is a psychologist and lives in Copenhagen with her philosopher boyfriend and their dog Camus. She is a 12 times Danish Champion in table tennis and played several seasons abroad and one season for French Fontenay-sous-Bois where she lived on Rue des Rosettes no. 9 – the address where the main character in Agatha lives. Agatha is her debut novel.
Thank you to Myrto Kalavrezou of Hodder & Stoughton for my gorgeous review copy.