Dirk Wittenborn - Pharmakon (4 stars)

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Dirk Wittenborn - Pharmakon

(Bloomsbury)

FAMILY DRAMA

Much like the characters within it, Dirk Wittenborn’s third novel defies classification. On the surface, it’s an epic family tale spanning five decades and three generations. One layer down, it’s a taut thriller rich with intrigue, murder and tragedy. Finally, embedded in each page, we find a fascinating account of mental illness and the well-meaning, but often barbaric, treatments prescribed to it over the years.

Our way in comes primarily from Will Friedrich, a frustrated psychologist battling for material gain and academic notoriety in 1950s America. While the voice of his youngest son, Zach, depicts the benefits and pitfalls of having Will as a father, each family member garners their own hang-ups as the years pass. Wittenborn’s comfort zone seems to lie in the past, as if having lived through the 80s and 90s he’s less able to pass judgement on them. But his ability to capture the hopes and fears of humanity are pretty much timeless.

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