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Reviewed by:
  • Memories and Hallucinations: A Memoir
  • Charles Hebert
D. M. Thomas. Memories and Hallucinations: A Memoir. New York: Viking, 1988. 195 pp. $18.95.

In Memories and Hallucinations, a provocative memoir loosely woven around a series of imaginatively reconstructed psychoanalytic sessions, D. M. Thomas struggles to come to terms with the complex relationship between life and art. This relationship terrifies him, he says—yet clearly he finds it intriguing also. Thomas describes art as "the fatal Oedipal crossroads where dreams, love and death meet." He claims that many of his imaginative creations actually come to life. When he shares a new poem about a mauled nestling with his students for the first time, an unwitting colleague enters the classroom cradling an injured nestling. Additionally, prophetic dreams, clairvoyant predictions, and fears produced by the unconscious often become reality in frightening coincidences. Thomas relates numerous incidents throughout his book to affirm his belief that, for the creative individual, life imitates art more frequently than vice versa, and the artistic creator must somehow assume responsibility for the result. In a way this book is a self-exorcism of the demons that have obsessed Thomas all his life.

Using his Freudian therapist as a guide, Thomas journeys with her through vividly recollected episodes of his entire life that take him from a supposedly blissful childhood (the notable exception being a disastrous sojourn in Australia away from his beloved Cornwall) to his undergraduate days at Oxford and his subsequent work as a translator, including his trips behind the Iron Curtain. In this soul-wrenching process, as he painfully grapples with the deaths of his mother and father and the suicide of a close friend, he analyzes himself as poet, novelist, translator, academic, and family man. Thomas masterfully employs the guiding analyst as a foil to his bouts of alternating self-denigration and self-justification while examining his often contradictory roles as both son and father, faithful adulterer and unfaithful husband, and numerous other perplexing relationships experienced during his diverse voyages. At the same time he also reveals some wonderful insights into the creative process involved in some of his other works, including his brilliant novel The White Hotel. One method that Thomas uses effectively is the poetry that he intersperses throughout the book which illustrates another aspect of this multiply divided soul, whether he is actually a poet or a prose writer. As a serious artist, he feels a compelling need to reconcile divisions in a life filled with diversities. Even though success seems always to elude him in these quests, the subsequent creations are extraordinary.

This captivating study of the intricate machinations of a superb but neurotic artist's mind is an unusual work, as one would expect from as unconventional an author as D. M. Thomas. It provokes at times, challenges at others, but always fascinates. It will interest readers wanting to know something about the mind behind Thomas' complex and disturbing fiction, but it will also reward anyone desiring a well-written, honest exploration of a talented artist's psyche. [End Page 629]

Charles Hebert
University of South Carolina


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