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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 1999
Hansen's first novel, The Chess Garden, deserves to be ranked with the best books of the 1990's. All of the dozen or so Amazon reviewers gave it five stars and I would happily write a review adding five more. I keep it conspicuously placed on my bookshelf so I am reminded of the fun of reading it. Perlman's Ordeal is another matter. Although the book is every bit the intellectual feast that the Chess Garden was, it lacks a certain spark that would have kept me interested in the story and in its protagonist, Dr. Perlman. Whereas Dr. Uyterhoeven in The Chess Garden was generously open-minded, Dr. Perlman is every bit the man who can't see beyond his rather educated nose. His ordeal is getting past that limitation - something he never completely seems to do. Hansen seems to have let his own main character attentuate his vision. Also, if there was a flaw in The Chess Garden, it was that its characters were not completely rounded - but somewhow it didn't really matter. It does matter in this book since we see everything through (via a third person narrator), Perlman's rather narrow, fretful, selfish eyes. This left me feeling cold. Still, Hansen's a major writer and I look forward to his next book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2000
It was like one of those long, mysterious dreams you have on Sunday mornings, substantial while experiencing it but gossamer upon reflection. The Chess Garden's merits are well known, and Boone (Hansen's first book, with cowriter Nick Davis) was possibly the best book I ever read in my life. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to the previous promise in my mind.
The premise was irresistable to me. In London at the turn of the (previous) century, a psychiatrist who uses hypnotism to cure patients of various phobias is presented with a teenage girl who has such a sudden and severe fear of water that she has refused to drink for 11 days and almost dies. When he begins to treat her an alternate personality takes over her body, presenting a story akin to the Atlantean myth. This myth enchants a new friend of his, the sister of a dead composer revered by the doctor, and she begins to hold a salon around the girl, playacting the events retold, and threatening the doctor with her spiritualism.
The atmosphere was perfect, and the tension caused by hindsight (Freud is just on the horizon, as is Russian communism and the Holocaust) was superb. Hansen is a writer obsessed with the ideas behind art forms, and he goes into great detail to present philosophical arguments about music here (melody vs. structure) that totally engaged me. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the substance here that I felt in the two previous books. Conflicts were neatly wrapped up but it seemed too pat, and explanations were wholly devoid. (Considering the theme of the novel the author intended to leave one guessing, but I could have used a few more hints than this.) The book is more accessible than Chess Garden (the narrative is more straightforward and less symbolic) and presents many interesting questions, but in the end the protagonists are left unchanged, which to me is the failure of the novel. This would make a great book club book, though, lots to argue about. If it sounds interesting, go ahead and try it, I definitely enjoyed reading it, just got frustrated when I was done. Boone figuratively sliced the top of my head off to let in a cold breeze, and Chess Garden was an intellectual challenge, but this was, IMO, a failed but valiant attempt.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2000
Sometimes I sympathize with those authors whose first novel is brilliantly original and alive. After all, they have expectations to fulfill that must be daunting. They must fret whether the second book will be thought as good, fret that readers will find it too similar and say they are formulaic or too dissimilar and feel betrayed They must fret that they will become a one-book-wonder.
Brooks Hansen's first novel, The Chess Garden, was such an original and inventive book, that he must have been a real fretnik. Judging by his second book, Perlman's Ordeal, he needn't fret anymore.
This book has its similarities to the Chess Garden. It is fantastic in the original sense of the word. It is saturated with myth and fable. It is delightfully original. It is also very different. Perlman, the protagonist in this book, is a crabbed and limited in his personal life as Dr. Uyterhoven was generous and open. Perlman finds his security in routine and in not taking risks. Dr. Uyterhoven would have smothered in the small life Perlman carved out for himself. However, Perlman is forced out of his routine and cast bewilderingly adrift in Atlantis, of all places. This Atlantis, however, is not the real Atlantis as Dr. Uyterhoven's Antipodes are The Antipodes. This Atlantis is in the mind of his patient, Sylvie Blum -- or more accurately, in Nina the "shard" personality that has taken over Sylvie Blum.
Dr. Perlman is an eminent practitioner of "clinical suggestion," the science of curing people through suggestion during a hypnogogic state. He is most definitely NOT a mere hypnotist nor something so bizarre as a mesmerist. Sylvie Blum is brought to him, completely out of protocol, since he prefers patients to ask for his services themselves...meaning patients who are ready for suggestion and success. She is dehydrated, refusing water and positively phobic in her fear of water. She is brought to him, sedated and is being forcefully hydrated. He is upset and expects failure since this patient was brought to him in such a disorderly way.
However, he is intrigued when he brings Sylvie to consciousness (he thinks) and discovers that there is a healthy young girl inside there who not only doesn't fear water but practically craves it. Unfortunately, that healthy young girl says her name is Nina. There begins the tale and what a tale it is, taking you from late 19th century London to the days when gods and goddesses walked the earth with humanity.
The ordeal is Perlman's struggle within himself, for he must break free of his routines and his regimens of treatment in order to successfully treat his patient. For once in his life, he must let events take their course and go along for the ride. And when it all comes back to him, when he must finish the tale, what will he do? Will he follow his regimen and his protocols, his science, or will he let himself fall into the story and be carried by it? Who will win Dr Perlman, art or science?
Dr. Perlman may not agree with me, but I think he did the right thing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 1999
I picked up "Perlman's Ordeal" because the review indicated that the main character was crazy about music. Hansen handled the musical underpinnings quite well. I found it delightful that Perlman's favorite composer (the late Alex Barrett) was giv- en to sessions of "Nonsense" music in which he exercised his imagination through improvisation, even to the point of unlearning what the conser- vatories had taught him. Doctor Perlman, who lived in a scientific straightjacket of his own, desper- ately needed some "nonsense" in his own life. Enter Sylvie/Nina. The desperately unhappy and suppressed Sylvie has seemingly been taken over by a channeled spirit named Nina, whose invisible companion is Oona, an Atlantean princess. Nina cannot be intimidated by Doctor Perlman. Indeed, she so easily wraps him around her finger that soon he is escorting her to Mme. Barrett's house (which, significantly enough, Doctor Perlman wants to go to because his favorite composer grew up there). With encouragement from Mme. Barrett and Lord Stanley (an actor who is also her uncle), Nina's story about Oona blossoms into an elaborate play at which several of Mme. Barrett's friends serve as audience membrs. I found it very hard to out this book down once I'd started it. Doctor Perlman's "ordeal" was anything but an ordeal for this reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 1999
This book is certainly intriguing and is written with the flair of a true aesthete. I was drawn in by the curious story and found the seven-day plot format to work very well. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the last third, in which the characters take part in a strange and too-often confusing theatrical enactment of Nina's supposed life in Atlantis. I was desperately awaiting a cathartic culmination to what I saw as a very promising plot development (who doesn't find the concept of Atlantis fascinating?), but was rewarded only with a vague and murky depiction of the Atlantis myth that answered none of my most fervent questions. I'm still not sure what significance is to be found in Perlman's participation in the play-acting at the end, which I felt he gave into out of a desire to pacify Helena; if his character truly had an epiphany concerning Nina's identity and the power of regression therapy, I certainly missed it. For these reasons, I put down PERLMAN'S ORDEAL feeling rather ambivalent about the characters and less than satisfied with the book as a whole.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 1999
Smart, intellectual, and surprisingly funny book, but it has some flaws that leave me feeling a little cold. It's almost as if the author is more impressed by the story - and stories - than I was. And the so-called love story fails to move me. I'd definitely give it a solid three stars, and an extra half star for sheer inventiveness and fun, but something goes screwey toward the end. The final actions -- the acting out on stage -- are confusing and not the epiphany we've been waiting for. And the main character's ultimate reserve - his unwillingness to admit his feelings for Madame Helena, or the passive way in which he admits them, even to himself -- is disappointing in the extreme. A mixed bag. In some ways a less ambitious book than Chess Garden, in other ways much funnier and more mature. Still looking forward to his next effort. Can't say that about most.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 1999
Brooke Hansen's second solo novel completely satisfies its own ambition - the most we can fairly ask of any work of art. Though "Perlman's Ordeal" touches on the otherworldly, the rug is promptly pulled from under the reader's feet and we are gently reminded that this is not a novel about Atlantis or reincarnation. It's an astoundingly elegant portrayal of a simple sequence of events: Dr. Perlman meets a patient he can't easily handle, and the confidence he invests in himself and in his strict ideology is broken.
Of course, this shiftiness has the slight potential to let down a bit. The reader is easily sucked in by the intruigue and grandeur of this patient's story - is she harboring the spirit of a girl from Atlantis? Hansen so beautifully depicts Perlman's cautious approach to the question, and we share the doctor's frustration when his calculated effort is run aground. The girl, named Sylvie but insisting on "Nina", enchants Perlman's aquaintences with her elaborate story.
As the child's new friends long to hear more and more of her curious history, so does the reader. The effect is thus quite alarming when, alongside Perlman, we are nearly swayed to her growing camp of devotees. Unwilling to re-think the matter, Hansen forces us to, quietly, insistently. We have shared Perlman's ordeal unwittingly.
In this strange calm the reader might feel a bit robbed. He shouldn't - "Perlman's Ordeal" contains some of the most beautiful prose I've read in a long time. Hansen writes with confidence and style. His characters, Perlman in particular, are deeply layered and very complex.
The end result is more subtle than awe-inspiring, more Kubrick than Cameron. It's certainly a winner though - a quiet, odd little winner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 1999
I anxiously awaited this book, after having read the Chess Garden and Boone (his other two books for adults) and am not disappointed! It is a brilliantly told tale of a Dr. who's entire belief system is challenged in a seven day timespan by a young girl brought to him for hypnotherapy treatment. This book soars - and no matter how carefully I read Mr. Hansen's work, the story is so rich and layered, I return to his books again and again and always come away with more than before!
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on December 19, 2012
Spoiler alert - don't continue if you want to read the work fresh. This book is a mess, novel as it is. The most sympathetic character is a charlatan, redeemed somewhat (as Perlman himself notes) by her apparent obliviousness to this fact, if not her charm and beauty.

Fittingly for a (just barely) pre-Freudian Edwardian melodrama, the book is all about sex, at the same time massively sublimating or outright denying the fact. The one explicit "sex" scene is jarringly out of place in a work that otherwise could have been written in 1906, when it took place. Granted, it did highlight Perlman's twisted sexuality and dread of intimacy. Even his deep devotion to music seems a pallid substitute for real human feeling rather than an indication of it.

The Atlantis dreck was severely off-putting, needlessly and ridiculously impairing the narrative. Dramatic flair is in evidence, but the author insists on sabotaging the flow in the long seance passage towards the end. I suppose it's to say that deep myths too are part of our civilizational heritage and every person's makeup, there are atavistic depths to be plumbed to learn who we are - more Jung than Freud. Also to contrast that wisdom with the barren offerings of science, represented by that son of the enlightenment and atheist, August Perlman. The false equivalence is just sad and downright annoying.

Forget about science vs myth circa 1906 - any sentient, beneficent practitioner would have suspected that hysterical thirteen year old Sylvie Blum was a victim of sexual abuse. There's the extreme and life-threatening water phobia, the almost physical need to escape into another personality, the story that is too dangerous to be told except through the most elaborate metaphors, the demand to tell that story in her own way, the centrality of the father in the story. The mother is mad and in an institution, it's just Sylvie and daddy and he wants her "cured" and is ready to spend good money to see to it. At least Madame wanted to hear her story, hare-brained though her reasons, defective her understanding. Perlman, he just wanted to shut her up and return to "normal".

All pretty sick stuff and historical as far as it goes, entire professions being erected right at this time to deny that fathers can be mistreating their thirteen year old daughters. Why it's female hysteria! Some deep irrational streak in young girls, let's talk about Atlantis. It comes out in the epilogue, where Perlman learns that both Sylvie and her father died of syphilis six years later - she would be nineteen then. I suppose that's the author's tell that he really knows what's going on, but an awfully long trek to get there.

-- Mike
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on June 8, 2000
Dr. August Perlman does not like surprises. His well-ordered world does not accomodate anything for which he has not carefully planned. The only thing in his life in which he allows himself to be at all whimsical, is when he's surrounded by classical music. In fact, that is his one true passion, but even then he struggles to find the meaning...the ORDER in it. He must fit it into his view of how the world works in order to understand it. It is London, 1906, and the doctor is a pioneer in what he terms "clinical suggestion"...or what we would call hypnotism. He struggles to be successful in an era when clinical psychology is just appearing--and Sigmund Freud has yet to make a name for himself. This is why he only takes on patients with which he is certain of his ultimate success in treatment. That is until Sylvie Blum is brought into his clinic, knocked unconcious by morphine, and accompanied by her father and her nanny. They bring with them a strange tale...the young girl has stopped eating, drinking, or bathing. In fact, she seems to be terrified of water altogether. Thus begins "Perlman's Ordeal". As he struggles to find the source of the young girls trauma, he begins to uncover even stranger information--of the mythical city of Atlantis. His efforts to "cure" the girl are unsuccessful, and lead Perlman (called "pearl-man" by the young girl) down avenues bizarre and disconcerting.
While Brooks Hansen evokes powerful images of time and place, the story itself seems to meander down blind alleys and meaningless streets. The subject matter is intriguing, but never uncovers any untrodden paths. Hansen is adept at writing, and pulling the reader into his story, but once there, are left to wonder why they came in the first place. His characterization is colourful and pleasing...but one wishes these characters had more direction and substance. A good read, but ultimately disappointing.
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