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Customer Review

on 22 December 2006
The Schopenhauer Cure may not be the great novel that When Nietsche Wept is but it is a brilliant text. As a fictional account of group therapy at its best, it offers excellent insights into group dynamics and the way that a skillful group analyst can guide and encourage them to unfold. There are sections of the book that read like therapeutic versions of Plato's Symposium, where the dynamics of the characters, enable them to discover voices within themselves that they would not have known otherwise.

The book's central character, Dr Julius Hertzfeld, a group analyst with a year to live makes his final year of weekly meetings with a group of patients his last will and testament. The accounts of what goes on during these sessions are utterly compelling, the best feature of the book. The presence in these group sessions of a patient from Hertzfeld's past, Philip Slate (a meaningful name for those familiar with 'microcosms'), a self-confessed sex addict who found solace and a cure for his addiction in the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, is what gives them their unforgettable quality. Slate does not preach Schopenhauer, he lives him or at least tries to do so. The presence in the group of a victim of Slate's earlier addiction makes forces Slate to put his philosophy of life to the test. In the course of the therapy sessions, we rediscover the central characters afresh, share some of their preoccupations and struggles.

Two features of the book left me with more mixed feelings. The account of Julius, a man who has a year of life, is not as rich as that of the other characters. He comes across through the idealizing lenses through which his patients see him, or maybe Irvin Yalom, a fellow-psychotherapist, choses to portray him. When all patients confess a hidden part from their past, Julius, prompted by Philip, also makes a confession but it seems anodyne and defensive to the point where even cursory self-analysis would suggest that much more is hiding there. Julius's idealization of his dead wife also seems to conceal more than we are let in on. His attempt to live with the knowledge of imminent dying is only half-developed in the novel. What, however, is excellently portrayed is how his patients learn to live with their therapist's death, without experiencing him as a 'corpse', someone contact with whom is painful or embarrassing.

The other thing I found somewhat less compelling are the chapters that take us back to the life, thought and work of Schopenhauer. As a genre, it reminded me of Kundera's, episodic return to the world of Goethe in Immortality, but it does not work so well. Schopenhauer is a curious philosopher - I am not sure that anyone can get to know him through these brief excursions into his life. A misanthrope who came to advocate compassion, a fame-hunter who excoriated fame, a truly great thinker who disclocated Western philosophy from its firm pedestal of LOGOS and sought to relocate it on the WILL, he needs far more time and patience to understand than is available to Yalom. All the same, this is a formidable achievement and a must for anyone interested in group psychotherapy.
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