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''The Fig Eater'' jumps to the screen

”The Fig Eater” jumps to the screen–Author Jody Shields tells us about writing the book and her anticipations for the film version

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Jody Shields has never traveled to Vienna and has no thoughts of visiting. ”I’m very familiar with the city,” she says. ”It might be a letdown to go there.” What Shields means is that she’s well versed on Vienna, c. 1910, with its cigar-chewing Burgers and sockless Gypsies, its Kaffeehauses and Kinderkliniks. This Vienna, the Vienna of Sigmund Freud, is the setting for Shields’ first novel, The Fig Eater, about the murder of an 18-year-old girl. The book — which generated so much buzz Miramax snapped it up — is loosely based on Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. But it’s as much a story of the time period — the burgeoning rationality and undertow of superstition — as embodied in the logical chief inspector and his intuitive wife, Erszebet. To create such characters, the ex-Vogue editor toiled for two years without a steady paycheck, researching everything from European werewolf legends to the Hungarian name for abortionists (angylcsináló, or angel maker). Now at work on a WWI-era novel, Shields is anticipating The Fig Eater‘s celluloid debut; she’d like Judi Dench to play Erszebet: ”She has that fierceness and intelligence.” Meanwhile, readers have myriad theories about her Fig characters’ secret motives. ”It pleases me,” Shields says. ”It’s like…psychoanalysis.” How appropriate.