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Playthings
Cover of Playthings
Playthings
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A hallucinatory, fragmentary, and tragic fictional telling of one of the most fa- mous psychotherapy cases in history, A lex Pheby's Playthings offers a visceral and darkly comic portrait of paranoid schizophrenia. Based on the true story of nineteenth-century German judge Daniel Paul Schreber, Playthings artfully shows the disorienting human tragedy of Schreber's psychosis, in vertiginous prose that blurs the lines between madness and sanity.

A hallucinatory, fragmentary, and tragic fictional telling of one of the most fa- mous psychotherapy cases in history, A lex Pheby's Playthings offers a visceral and darkly comic portrait of paranoid schizophrenia. Based on the true story of nineteenth-century German judge Daniel Paul Schreber, Playthings artfully shows the disorienting human tragedy of Schreber's psychosis, in vertiginous prose that blurs the lines between madness and sanity.

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  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2018
    A highly detailed, emotional plunge into the mind of a disturbed man.Englishman Pheby's (Grace, 2009) unique second novel draws on a famous psychiatric case from the 19th century for its main character, Daniel Paul Schreber, a judge of the High Court of Saxony. In 1903, Schreber wrote Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, which became a subject of interest to other novelists as well as Sigmund Freud. Pheby's novel picks up Schreber's story later, when he suffers a third bout of mental illness. There are echoes of Nikolai Gogol's "Diary of a Madman" and Franz Kafka's nightmarish writings. Writing in the third person in a semi-stream of consciousness manner, Pheby invites us to enter deep into Schreber's mind as he experiences frustrations, delusions, and fantasies. The novel opens with Schreber frantically searching his house for his wife, Sabine. He finds her on the floor; she's had a seizure: "What was this? This panting thing? Moaning...grinning mannequin...his wife's form, but without her soul." He leaves the house and wanders around, encountering various people on the streets. His daughter, Fridoline, tries to get him to come back; he refuses. He then finds himself in a hospital under the care of Müller, an orderly, and Dr. Rössler, who has read Schreber's memoir. Pheby meticulously chronicles Schreber's treatment and his recurring nightmares and tortuous memories of his strict father, who probably mistreated his children. Schreber ruminates on religion--was he a mere "plaything of the Lower God?" A mysterious Jewish gentleman, who may or may not be real, haunts him. Schreber is the book's sole focus, always front and center, but that center is askew.An intense, immersive reading experience that provides real insight into those afflicted with severe mental illness.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 4, 2018
    This intricate and intelligent novel by Pheby (Grace) is based on the true story of a respected 19th-century German judge, Daniel Paul Schreber. In 1903, he wrote about his experience with the midlife onset of a delusional mental disorder and treatment in an asylum in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, which was later interpreted by Freud. Pheby opens the novel as Schreber’s wife suffers a stroke, precipitating his third major psychotic episode. Readers learn that Schreber is not always convinced that other people are real: they are “playthings” of various gods, and stop existing when they are not being witnessed. Through Schreber’s interactions with orderlies, doctors, family members, and other asylum inmates (who might or might not be real), readers learn about his difficult childhood, in particular his strict, demanding father. Pheby uses a close third-person perspective to zoom into Schreber’s mind during his periods of lucidity, or semi-lucidity. He’s keen to return home in time for Christmas, and seemingly held more or less against his will. Gradually, readers realize that he has been ill for some years and does not even always recognize his own family. The effort to discern what is real effectively transports readers into Schreber’s experience and tragedy.

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Playthings
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Alex Pheby
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