A modern thriller with a proper appreciation for the noir of the 1940s, The Reflection is a mind-bender that trips you back and forth through a monochrome kaleidoscope of existence and mental disorder. Caught in a web of confusion, a psychiatrist stumbles from one incident to the next, amidst the twist and turns of mistaken identity and questioning his own sanity. Leaves you guessing until the last (a clue! no…a red herring! no… a clue…!!), and distinctly baffled long after.
Meet Dr Manne. He’s a psychiatrist who is having rather a bad day, to put it mildly. In the vein of the original noir, we begin with a version of a femme fatal, and the ‘investigator’ – in this case not the P.I. but a psychiatrist. After being sought for his professional advice under somewhat dubious circumstances, he soon finds himself entrapped in a different identity. What follows is as much a thriller to solve as it is about questioning the meaning of identity and sanity.
Where the ‘noirs’ of old have the requisite hard-boiled and disenchanted private investigator as the lead, David Manne is naive and somewhat sheltered despite his career in psychiatry. Furthermore, his field of interest, the repeated reflection of his past cases, and his non-detective status, add to his difficulty in disentangling fact from fiction and the puzzle gets progressively more convoluted.
I felt dizzily on the verge of something but I didn’t know what.
From the beginning, there is an immediate sense of an unreliable narrator – who talks of ‘drifting’ and being ‘unmoored’ – clearly as much intended to obfuscate as it is to guide the reader. Manne’s isolated existence and his inherent ability for great imagination make it easier to ‘lose one’s bearing’. Amidst his own natural bewilderment at the chain of events, it’s in his nature to question everything and observe the smallest details. As readers, we watch as apparent clues materialise, subsequently morphing into red herrings and irritants to sanity and, later still, seeming positively truthful or at least sane, and so on, working uncertainty on both reader and narrator.
I’d been at dozens of scenes like this. There was no commoner delusion than that the police, or the doctor, or the wife, or the family was trying to get the subject committed for nefarious reasons. The fear and confusion: they, too, were typical. And yet something didn’t feel right. But what with the tiredness, the events of the day, I was no longer confident of my own reactions. I glanced over to the bottle in the corner, it’s bottom neatly shorn off. I looked about for the bottom, or its shattered remains, but couldn’t see a single shard of glass.
Then after he’d gone, the bits and pieces of our conversation would filter back through my mind, blend together, distort, like fragments of a dream that lingered well into the waking hours.
Could this banal accumulation of facts really be a life, my life? If so, it seemed a poor thing, lacking all imagination. The interrogations had left me feeling alienated from my past, as though it were in fact someone else’s.
Wilcken might be a bit heavy-handed with his references to acting and dreams, but it works all the same, dragging the reader into a sort of ‘parallel universe’, replicating this ‘haze of nonsleep’. Since ‘true’ noir never can be happily resolved, if you like neat, easy solutions then this is not for you. But if you enjoy puzzles, mind games, questions of sanity, alienation and the multitude of possible directions that this will open up, then look forward to a psychological thriller that will keep you rethinking the scenes long after the book is finished.
The Reflections by Hugo Wilcken is published by Melville House, 300 pages.
… and there’s more…
- Jim Thompson’s novel The Killer in Me
- James M. Cain Double Indemnity
Christopher Nolan’s film Memento