‘Playthings’, Alex Pheby’s second novel, provides a compelling and original take on one of the most influential psychological case studies in early-20th-century history: the mind of Daniel Paul Schreber.
Daniel Paul Schreber was a judge who lived in Dresden – and in later life wrote ‘Memoirs of My Nervous Illness’, an autobiographical account of his battle with mental illness. This extraordinary book, based on Schreber’s first two confinements in an asylum, became a foundation stone in the psychological history of the 20th century.
What Schreber was not able to write about was the final part of his story: his third episode of delusion and paranoia and subsequent incarceration, from which he did not return. ‘Playthings’ provides this dark final chapter. Along the way, it plunges deep not just into the mind of Schreber, but also into the society in which he struggled to live – because his rigid upbringing, and subsequent breakdowns, is the story not just of one man, but of Germany as whole.
“Readers are fully immersed in paranoid psychosis, yet unlike Schreber, remain in full possession of their faculties. It’s an experience that remains with you long after the last page has been turned and the door to Schreber's asylum has swung open.”
“Pheby’s writing is elegant and straightforward, but the discontinuous structure of the book is not, and the clarity of the prose can be deceptive: certain characters and events presented as real turn out not to be; others we are left to wonder about.”
“‘Playthings’ gets into the head, with tender attentiveness, of a man having a psychotic breakdown and takes up the story where the real Schreber left off.”