In this autobiographical novelization of a seven-year psychoanalysis the protagonist recounts the life story that led to her psychosomatic symptoms, and the medical and psychiatric story that led to her analysis. Her early relationships, particularly with her mother, her life in French Algeria in the 1930's to 1950's, and her adult relationships as wife and mother, are told through the associative processes of psychoanalysis as the protagonist grows into a healthy, fulfilled woman and writer. Cardinal beautifully illustrates the joy and rebirth in finding the words to say it.


This poetic rendering of the psychoanalytic process of (re)-constructing the conscious and unconscious stories of oneself informs the reader in an exemplary manner of the formation of psychosomatic symptoms and the somatizer's love-hate relationship with them, and of the phenomena of free association, resistance, transference, and acting out. The narrative technique, which at once follows a linear chronology of sessions and explores the highly nonlinear associative time within sessions, leads naturally to discussion of the temporal dimension of narrative.

The novel also helps to explore relationships among fiction and reality, literature and medicine, and introduces notions of literary and non-literary genres and their hybrids into the discussion. Clear about the relationships between the actual process of psychoanalysis and the attempt to recount, and between fiction and reality, Cardinal sustains an apt and lyrical metaphor of her relationship to the protagonist as that of sisters--alike but not identical--much as her relationship to her former self or selves is like that of someone recognizably though no longer identically her. This novel is a truly inspiring model of the healing power of words and narrative, and of the constructedness of all narratives--life, medical, pathological, therapeutic, or other.


Original: Les mots pour le dire, Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 1975. Translated by Pat Goodheart; Preface and Afterword by Bruno Bettelheim.


Van Vactor & Goodheart

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.



Page Count