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The Fig Eater: A Novel by Jody Shields
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The Fig Eater: A Novel (edition 2001)

by Jody Shields

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7381512,638 (2.94)13
Member:aluvalibri
Title:The Fig Eater: A Novel
Authors:Jody Shields
Info:Back Bay Books (2001), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction, contemporary, women, America

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The Fig Eater by Jody Shields

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I was disappointed in the ending, but overall, liked the way it got there. Good look at historical Vienna and the history of criminal investigations. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
Meh. A gift from my aunt-in-law. Dunno how she selected it. 1910 Vienna could be interesting; 1900 Vienna was the setting of one of my favorite books from 2010, Selden Edwards's The Little Book. This 1910 Vienna was bland, except for the pastry. Could have used more Hungary. ( )
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
I'm pretty sure I didn't like this book. The end was just darn strange, and I wasn't fond of how the characters evolved during the story. I still have no idea what the fig had to do with anything, why the inspector's wife was so obsessive about the case, where Wally came from, or why Dora's father was so secretive about everything. The dangling threads at the end of this story were just distracting and unnecessary. ( )
  Krumbs | Mar 31, 2013 |
bad writing, horrible ending ( )
  bothhands | Sep 16, 2012 |
The style is brooding and single-minded. Each statement is as a fact. A few things struck me; the roles people took with each other were very singular. Dora made a friend of a woman who was having an affair with her own father. Franz is an apprentice to the Inspector (whose name we never learn) and is content to be in that role, complete with an awed reverence, until he feels he can go out on his own. Wally (a weird name) is the British governess who helps Erszebet with her illicit investigations is very much in awe of Erszebet and takes much time in preparing speech she will have with Erszebet. Erszebet herself has a very ritualistic relationship with her husband the Inspector.

Their life is weird. She is very superstitious and reads the tarok and examines the flesh of birds to determine the future. She goes on weird fast and prayer binges to preserve good luck. Very opposite to her precise and neurotically logical husband. Whenever he has an emotion, he questions it. He deliberates endlessly over very small actions. He considers so long that often, the “moment” is gone. What a strange pair. He casually searches her dressing table and roams the house looking for caches of secret possessions of hers. In turn, she reads his investigator’s notebook and looks through his briefcase. Neither finds the other’s actions intrusive; they instead look upon them as symptoms of love and devotion and take the possessiveness as a compliment. In this century, we’d each be outraged at that kind of behavior. I wouldn’t dream of taking the liberty of searching through anything of Ken’s & I’d freak if he did that to me.

Other weird things include a museum of anatomical sculptures that only admits men. Wally disguises herself as a male and goes in. She recognizes her own colors & textures among the exposed breasts and labia. I’m not entirely sure how she & Erszebet hooked up. At one point Wally is waiting outside a restaurant for Erszebet to arrive. She has to wait outside because unescorted women are forbidden to enter the restaurant. In the 20the century! I can hardly believe it.

There’s a photographer named Egon (really!) who has some fingers missing due to the explosive power of the flashes he used. He was distracted as an apprentice by the naked woman his master was photographing.

Dora I couldn’t warm to at all. I connected her with the Dora in David Copperfield and since I didn’t like Dickens’s Dora, I couldn’t like this Dora. Even when a gypsy (for unknown reasons) cut her thumb off her buried corpse, I couldn’t develop any sympathy for her. She seemed to not care that her father was going around giving syphilis to anyone one warm and she was sickly and self-absorbed. ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Jun 11, 2009 |
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Epigraph
But an Investigating Officer must never and under no circumstances allow himself to follow the paths along which he is pushed, be is designedly or accidentally, by the various witnesses. Apart from the fact that the reconstitution of the crime for oneself is the only effective method, it is the only interesting one, the only one that stimulates the inquirer and keeps him awake at his work.

--Hans Gross, System der Kriminalistik, 1904
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For Kathleen Bishop

Richard Jay Kohn

John Owen Ward
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He stands up next to the girl's body.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316785261, Paperback)

Penzler Pick, May 2000: It is 1910 Vienna, and a woman's body has been found in the Volksgarten. She is Dora--Freud's famous patient. The Inspector (whose name we never learn) is painstakingly trying to put together the circumstances of her death with the help of the principles outlined in the 1901 book System der Kriminalistik, the first tome to attempt a psychological approach to understanding crime. The Inspector's wife, Erszébet, meanwhile, is drawn to this murder for reasons she doesn't understand and decides to investigate using her own methodology, derived from the Gypsy folklore she grew up with in Hungary.

What separates The Fig Eater from ordinary mystery fiction is the look it offers at detective work in the early 20th century, as the methods used moved from folklore and ignorance to the scientific. Photography of the era often resulted in the loss of fingers. Forensic methods so familiar to us now were unheard of, and the use of psychological profiling to capture killers was a young science unknown by most of the general populace.

Shields introduces the reader to Dora's family and acquaintances, giving depth to the characters only briefly discussed in Freud's case study of Dora. She takes liberties with the historical record (this is, after all, a novel) but creates a plausible scenario of what might have happened while depicting a brooding turn-of-the-century Vienna replete with gorgeous details of food, fashion, botany, and manners. The film rights have been optioned by Miramax, and if the author had her way, she says, it would star Liam Neeson and Judi Dench. --Otto Penzler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:51 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Early twentieth-century Vienna forms the backdrop for a historical mystery as a police inspector investigates the death of a beautiful young girl, found brutally murdered in the Volksgarten park, while his Hungarian wife and a teenage English governess pursue their own probe into the case… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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