Perlman's Ordeal


Brooks Hansen




An enthralling novel about spiritualism, the symphony, and the lost city of Atlantis.

London, 1906. Dr. August Perlman-music lover, opium addict, and pioneer of "clinical suggestion"-is on his way to the symphony when a teenage girl is brought to his office. Sylvie Blum is catatonic, unwashed, and dehydrated. It seems that another girl's personality is living inside her.

Perlman goes to the symphony anyway, and meets the charismatic spiritualist Madame Helena Barrett, who soon gets young Sylvie to talk. Her story bears astonishing resemblances to the myth of Atlantis. The girl within the girl says she once lived there.


The doctor wants to suppress her story; the spiritualist is desperate to hear it told. And so they battle for the soul of the girl, both in London and in the world of wonders that is the imagination. Their conflict is overshadowed by the ghost of Madame's late brother, a composer whose life and work are brilliantly imagined by the author.


Brooks Hansen's novel The Chess Garden was acclaimed as "a marvel of attention to the things of this world, and worlds beyond" (Jay Parini, The New York Times Book Review). In Perlman's Ordeal, he once again takes the world of myth and brings it keenly to life in the pages of a novel.


Praise for Perlman’s Ordeal 



Brooks Hansen draws a stunning portrait of a credible miracle….A remarkable narrative performance.      

                                                                            Los Angeles Times Book Review


Perlman’s Ordeal takes us back almost a century to a time when science and spirituality were feuding every bit as fiercely as today.”

                                                                                    - Vogue


In form and substance, it posits art and imagination as victors in their never-ending tussle with science and order.  Indeed, art this lovely always wins.

                                                                                    - Wall Street Journal


Extravagantly, even bewilderingly inventive.  (Perlman’s Ordeal) is crammed with the stuff of dreams.

                                                                                    - New York Times Book Review


Admirers of The Chess Garden will find similar heady pleasures in Perlman’s Ordeal.  Brooks Hansen continues to display, through the richness of his fin-de-siecle fictional territory, a remarkable ability for mapping out how our lives and fates wend through a thicket of symbols.

                                                                                    - Chicago Tribune


Hansen’s seriocomic hero is another good poke at the preening self-confidence of science, in this case the budding efforts at the turn of the century to systematize the study of the mind.  Hansen deftly conveys these early probings at the border of myth and medicine.

                                                                                    - Time Magazine


Brooks hansen’s literary intelligence is present everywhere but never intrusive.  His evocation of the turn of the century musical scene is richly inviting.  His characters, combustibe mixtures of vitality and vulnerability, are compelling.  That he gives Perlman’s Ordeal bot the narrative suspense of a mystery and the philosophical depth of a novel of ideas is a testimony to his mastery.

                                                                                    - Newsday


An entrancing tale that mixes psychiatry, hypnotism, and mysticism in turn-of-the-century London.

                                                                                    - Baltimore Sun


The reader, like Perlman himself, us caught eyes wide shut in something grotesquely fascinating and maddeningly entertaining.

                                                                                    - The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)


Like the music that Perlman loves, Perlman’s Ordeal is orchestrated on many levels.  In closing, Hansen ingeniously ties its many themes together with a climax that proves—as in his highly acclaimed novel The Chess Garden—that narrative trumps all.

                                                                                    - City Pages


Music, hypnosis, and love wrapped in magisterial prose…Mesmerizing.

                                                                                    - New York Observor


The boundary between reason and madness shifts subtly in this psychodrama doubling as a love story.  The result is a well-told, heady mix of enchantment and intellectual challenge.

                                                                                    - Kirkus Reviews (starred)


Perlamn's Odeal (FSG, 1999) was chosen as a New York Times Notable Books