Synopsis:A soldier who calls himself “George” is admitted to the army’s psychiatric ward after a vicious attack on the major of his company. The major was concerned about the contents of a letter “George” wrote home to his girl, Anna but the contents are not revealed to the reader until the very end.
Dr Phil Outerbridge is given the task of dealing with a soldier who is surrounded with some mystery. The army want the issue of his attack on the major dealt with quickly and sensitively. The novel opens with a series of letters between Phil and his superior Al, discussing the way in which this case could be dealt with and Phil’s initial impressions of the patient.
At the very beginning, before the story proper, there is a section describing the reader sneaking into Phil’s office (We are assured it is safe, after all it is only fiction) and opening this particularly curious file and working through it. The different voices and styles that this requires are skillfully handled and the psychiatric reports and analysis are convincing and intelligent.
The soldier is tasked with writing his own story. He is advised that it might be easier in the third person and chooses the name “George” for himself.The third person narrative that follows gives a lot of detail about “George’s” early life, his time in a boys’ home and then in the army and details his love of hunting. Whenever it seems that there may be some sort of revelation, George moves on to the next event and the reader is left wondering exactly what has happened. As Phil later comments, there are a number of holes in his story.
After “George’s” narrative, there follows a number of psychiatric evaluations and interviews in which more details are slowly revealed about the exact nature of “George’s” sickness. The way the story slowly unfolds reminded me of the narrative structure of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde where witness accounts and letters hint at the horror that the reader eventually faces.
In the end, the contents of the letter is revealed and the story finishes with no absolute decision on whether “George” will stay in the hospital or not. Instead, there is a return to the authorial voice of the beginning offering us possible fictional outcomes and inviting us to decide. Then in the final chilling moments, we are warned to hurry in case Phil catches us and it isn’t fiction after all but real. Of course, such horror does exist in the real world and this could easily be a real case study. It is a clever and unnerving ending to what was a clever and unnerving story.