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Book Reviews   |    
The Pages

The Pages
by by Murray Bail. ; New York, Other Press, 2010, 208 pages, $14.95

Reviewed by Drew Bridges, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.00621516a
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Bridges is a semiretired psychiatrist who also owns The Storyteller's Book Store in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

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Murray Bail's short novel invites the thoughtful reader to consider life's contrasts, including urban life versus rural, psychoanalysis versus philosophy, the contemplative life or one of industry, and the effect of climate on world view.

The story is drawn around the death of Wesley Antill, a self-taught philosopher whose will directs that his life work be published with the proceeds of his estate. Academic philosopher Erica Hazlehurst is assigned her department's assessment of his work and travels to his sheep farm home accompanied by her psychoanalyst friend, Sophie. All manner of psychological intrigue unfolds within the relationship of the two women and with the siblings of the deceased, who are the keepers of “the pages.”

The book is not light reading and indeed seems to invite readers to study the issues raised. Yet the story moves well, and I remained fully engaged in the question of whether Wesley Antill's attempt at crafting a unique philosophy of thought would be judged a work of genius or be easily dismissed by the profession.

The prose might best be described as impressionistic, although clever with compelling imagery, and the narrative often has an unfinished quality, offering suggestion rather than detail. I read much of it as something akin to a projective psychological test, with my own associations running the considerable distance between Lady Chatterly's Lover and Sartre's Nausea.

I found engaging with the work to be somewhat challenging, primarily because I have become weary of stories where the psychoanalyst is the most deeply flawed of characters, plus I have long found the study of philosophy bewildering—the latter no fault of the author. Yet my barriers were overcome by the book's compelling plot.

The final scene of the story deserves special scrutiny. I was wholly unprepared for the interaction between Erica Hazlehurst and Wesley's brother Roger. At first I was not sure what I was reading, but with reflection and rereading, the story left me breathless and hopeful—and fully satisfied. Other readers may not share this experience, but those who look for stories and characters that stay with them for a time should find rewards here.

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