My thoughts on The Analyst by John Katzenbach
I’ve been wanting to read The Analyst for years but I never quite got to it. When I recently asked on social media for suggestions of books to read next, this book was mentioned a few times, so there you go.
“Happy fifty-third birthday, Doctor. Welcome to the first day of your death”.
Imagine that you’ve been living a normal, peaceful life; trying to help people overcome their personal and psychological problems through the use of psychoanalysis and that on the day of your 53rd birthday, you receive a letter that reads: “The first day of your death”.
It turns out that Frederick Starks, a psychoanalyst, once let down one of his patients. Now someone is back to hunt him down for his mistake and is asking him to either find out the identity of the letter’s author or to commit suicide. Otherwise, a family member will be destroyed. And yes, not killed, but destroyed. He has 15 days to do either.
The Analyst is filled with psychological games, Katzenbach made sure of it. Dr Starks tries to fight for his survival against overwhelming odds and an incredibly resourceful yet invisible antagonist which he refers to as Mr R.
Starks finds himself playing the death game as the analyst he is. Reacting to what is happening around him and analysing the events, rarely with any time to think ahead and connect the dots necessary for him to find out who Mr R is, avoiding the suicide sentence or someone from being destroyed.
The book is written beautifully, with references to classical Greek works and fictional characters all over the place, whoever it is quite slow and requires some patience. The main plot twist is not that surprising and some of the connections that lead Starks to his revenge are a bit boring. The book is good, but for me personally, not great.
The foremost reason I enjoyed it is because of the critique of society it represents. Starks finds himself left alone, unable to seek help or be helped by a system that continuously shows pride on its effectiveness. Throughout the book the main characters fool the system in order to achieve their goals. This is done in such a way that it feels realistic for such things to actually happen.
As Starks says in one part of the book: “by this point, it is obvious the system didn’t care about those children”. Making reference to Mr R’s childhood.
The main point of the book I believe, is to show how insecure our society truly is when an individual is being targeted. Safety comes with numbers. From the shadows of anonymity, you can fool the system and get away with murder.
The Analyst shows how small we are in a society filled with bigger and more pressing issues, everyone is looking for an easy way out of the troubles, ignoring what is unpleasant and accepting the easiest explanation, even though it could not be the correct one.
There’s much food for thought in it too. Is taking revenge right or wrong? Is your life worth more than someone else’s life? How easy is it to become corrupt and evil if your life is in danger?
As always, it’s all about perspective. My perspective is a bit broader after finishing The Analyst by John Katzenbach.