The Listener


TWO YEARS AFTER THE END OF WORLD WAR II, a mysterious figure, Bertram Reiner, appears at Shadowbrook, a private asylum whose elegant hallways, vaulted ceilings, and magnificent grounds suggest a country estate more than a psychiatric hospital. At first, the chief psychiatrist — as genteel as his aristocratic surrounds — considers his charismatic patient to be a classic, though particularly intriguing, case of war neurosis. But as treatment progresses, Dr. Harrison’s sense of clarity clouds over, and he is drawn into Bertram’s disquieting preoccupations.

Then, late one night, an intruder is sighted on the hospital grounds, the first in a series of uncanny events that appear to the doctor to be strangely linked; clues abound, yet the truth about Bertram seems always to slip away. Meanwhile, Dr. Harrison’s own long-buried troubles reemerge with brutal force. As the careful contours of his existence begin to waver, the doctor is plunged into dangerous, compulsive territory.

When Dr. Harrison finds himself spying on his head nurse, Matilda, even following her one midnight through the underground tunnels that join the hospital buildings, he knows there is no turning back. He is desperate to get to the bottom of the intertwining mysteries connecting Bertram, Matilda, and himself, and senses that everything in his life — and theirs — is at stake.

Set against the backdrop of the insanity of war, The Listener explores the havoc historical trauma plays with the psyche, and illuminates the uncertain boundary between sanity and insanity. Shira Nayman’s storytelling is mesmerizing. The Listener is a riveting tale of madness, mystery, and passion that excavates the dark corners of the human heart and mind. It is a work of rare depth and power.

 

“The madness of war, even after war is over, envelops everyone in this well-paced psychological thriller.”

— The New York Times Editors' Choice List

“The Listener explores with great subtlety and perceptiveness the issues of trauma and guilt, illustrating the complexity of the way in which a mind that has experienced horrors—whether as perpetrator or victim—may create elaborate defenses that are paradoxically self-destructive. Combining a psychologist’s insight with the skill of a gifted novelist, Shira Nayman dramtaizes brilliantly the futility of the belief that there is any absolute point of objectivity from which the most horrific experiences may be examined.”

— Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx and The Unburied

“Shira Nayman, the author whose collection of short stories, Awake in the Dark, first won her acclaim three years ago, captivates in this haunting debut historical novel…The surroundings are familiar to Nayman, a clinical psychologist who’s worked in psychiatric hospitals, and her expertise shows”

— The Daily Beast "This Weeks Hot Reads"

“[The Listener’s] probing analysis of the line between sanity and insanity and the questioning of the rules that govern the patient-doctor relationship are consistently intriguing”

— Booklist

“There is a Gothic feel to this story with the haunted grounds of Shadowbrook making an eerie setting. While the book is a historical, it has even a greater sense of time travel to it when it travels to an opium den. There is more to the Gothic nature then the setting: it extends to the way the characters interact and to the atmosphere established by the dialog”

— Book Group Buzz, Booklist blog

“Nayman has written a first novel alive with turbulence.”

— The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Dark, obsessive …vividly imagined and evoked.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Nayman plumbs the murky ethics of the analyst-patient relationship and tackles moral questions of collaboration and guilt”

— Publishers Weekly

“With U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ramping up, examining the effects of war on the psyche has never seemed more important. Shira Nayman churns up past complications of both World Wars in her new novel. … She purposely blurs the line between sanity and insanity not only to engage readers in solving the plot’s mysteries but also to underscore that when war is involved, the line is always blurry.”

— The Miami Herald

“The Listener is, at its core, a story of listening, of narration—the lies we tell, the plots and characters we invent. But it is also an honest look at the way trauma and violence afflict an entire generation’s psyche, the way war is a disease that lasts well after the weapons have been laid down. This intelligent and unexpected novel is set in the 1940s, but its message is just as true today”

— bookpage.com

PRAISE FROM AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

“Shira Nayman’s first novel is full of echoes and resonances. There may even be an echo of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. …. The plot is skilful and shrewdly deployed…very suspenseful.”

— The Australian Book Review

“[M]ore knowing about the nature of psychiatric hospitals than others…At least part of [Nayman’s] purpose is the very humane one of reminding medical people that they are not little gods and that their patients are fully human.”

— New Zealand Sunday Star Times

“[C]reates a powerfully claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere where the truth is slippery and no one’s sanity is certain. Verdict: listen closely”

— Herald Sun

“There is much to admire in this authentically dark portrait of madness inspired by the insanity of war.”

— Canberra Times

“Nayman is compelling when she writes about the issues the book raises: the psychiatrist-patient relationship, of complicity in times of war and of probity in human relations”

— Weekend Australian

“The Listener is a novel that makes a mystery out of one man’s insanity and duplicity and another’s obsession with him.”

— Sydney Morning Herald