chapter  2
28 Pages

Documentary fiction

Although different in many respects from Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel has several complementary features. Like Amis’s, Thomas’s novel has a central Holocaust-related intertext-Anatoli Kuznetsov’s ‘historical novel’ Babi Yar, and other intertexts as well-Freud’s case histories, letters and journals.1 Most strikingly, its narrative is affected by a particular view of time and history, just as the narrative form of Time’s Arrow was (de)formed by its allegiance to an anti-backshadowing perception of time. As well as repeating motifs and incidents, The White Hotel looks forward rather than backward, making it another narrative satire on backshadowing. The novel consists of a prologueletters between the fictional Freud and his contemporaries about the fantasies of one of his women patients, written between the staves of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni-and six sections. ‘Don Giovanni’ is a first-person account of a woman’s sexual fantasies, in poetic form. ‘The Gastein Journal’ is the fantasied prose version of the same scenario of sexual love and disaster at a white hotel, in the third person but written from the woman’s point of view; it later emerges that this is Lisa Erdman’s diary.2 ‘Frau Anna G.’ is the case history of Lisa Erdman, written and narrated by Thomas’s Freud, including details of her puzzling physical symptoms. The Health Resort’ is the third-person account of the vagaries of Lisa’s life after her analysis. In ‘The Sleeping Carriage’, which takes place some years later, the last few days of Lisa’s life are narrated: she lives in a poor part of Nazi-occupied Kiev, and is killed in the Babi Yar massacre. Her ‘hysterical’ symptoms turn out to be real injuries. The Camp’ is an after-life fantasy in which wounds begin to heal, told by a third-person narrator.