Vienna Triangle is not a mathematical puzzle but a complex human one. The novel opens in 1968 with Helene Deutsch, the first female psychotherapist and one of the last survivors of Freud’s circle, meeting a new neighbor literally by accident. Emily Berg stumbles to the ground while walking, and Helene helps her home and meets Kate, Emily’s budding feminist daughter and an earnest psychology student researching women in early psychotherapy. Meeting her idol, Helene, in the flesh, Kate begs a chance to mine Helene’s memories of the early Freudian circle. A modern triangle forms, as Kate delves into her own past against her mother’s wishes and uncovers a diary which, paired with Helene’s remembrances, gives her myriad insights that no span of psychotherapy treatment could have unearthed. Helen confirms events in the diary of the various triangles of influence involving Freud, Helene, and the ubiquitous intellectual temptress, Lou-Andreas Salomé, and their effect on intense, star-crossed acolyte Viktor Tausk, the diary’s author. Were there enough neuroses in the Freud “family” alone to supply the annals of psychotherapy? Did each work out their jealousies and fears on one another, eventually leading to dissent and disaster?
This is a compelling read for those who crave insights into human behavior and early psychotherapy, but also an enjoyable read as Webster blends fact with her seamless fiction to create a satisfying portrait of two major upheavals in 20th-century history: the human timeline of Freudian “bombshells” and the social revolution of the turbulent Sixties.