Book Review: “The Hypnotist” by Sarah Sheard

The Hypnotist, a novel by Sarah Sheard

The Hypnotist

The HypnotistΒ is the first book I readΒ by Toronto psychotherapist and authorΒ Sarah Sheard.Β It was back in 2001, at a time when I was contemplating becoming a novelist who, like Sheard, would draw upon their professional experience to inform a book’s plot and themes. I ended up focusing on my nonficton writing instead, until recently.

A Novel From The Viewpoint Of A Psychotherapist

As for Sheard, she applied her therapist’s viewpoint in The Hypnotist by creating a psychologically taut study of an arrogant, cold-hearted male suitor, William – a successful psychiatrist – and his rather diffident (though talented and lovely) objet d’amour, Signe.

The novel chronicles a pas de deux between the Svengali-like William and the surprisingly docile Signe. This dance of the lovers rings true to a large enough extent. I found the story compelling in its depiction of William and Signe as hunter and willingly hunted, respectively. As well, the references to Gestalt psychology were highly enlightening.

Questioning The Author’s Stereotypes Of The Sexes

However I must profess to scratch my head at how Sheard portrays Signe. Why as such a frail and dependent damsel in distress? From whence does Signe’s abject lack of self-confidence stem? If the author gives us sufficient hints of this in the novel, I must have overlooked them.

As such, I was ultimately disappointed with the story. Its conclusion is, given the narcissism and sociopathology of William throughout the book, eminently predictable. This does not spoil the writing and descriptiveness Sheard employs. However it does lead me to wonder what the author must think, in real life, of men (venal conquerors) and women (hapless victims). Interesting. What might Gestalt have to say about this?

A readable novel, with plenty of emotional grist for the psychology mill. But let’s please give more credit to women for their capacity to fend for themselves?

Several months after reading The Hypnotist in 2001, I looked up Sarah Sheard’s phone number and called her directly. We are both based in Toronto. I congratulated her for being an accomplished author. And I explained that I was considering writing fiction that, like hers, would draw on my professional experience (at the time as a career consultant and nonfiction author).

Sarah was a pleasure to converse with. Her insights were very helpful. Fast forward to the early part of 2013. I attended an open house of authors doing readings. Beside me sat an engaging woman who was invited up to read. When she was introduces as Sarah Sheard, I smiled appreciatively. Small world.

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