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98 Reasons for Being

B

Clare Dudman labors beneath a cumbersome premise (real-life 19th-century doctor Heinrich Hoffmann treats fictitious Jewish seamstress Hannah for severe ”melancholia”), outsize ambitions (constructing a microcosm of pre-Bismarck Germany in a Frankfurt madhouse), and an awful title: 98 Reasons for Being. Given all that, she fares pretty well. Her Hoffmann, author of the morbidly funny kids’ book Shockheaded Peter, displays little of that work’s black wit as he manages his asylum; he’s just a repressed sad sack dying slowly of good intentions. His relationship with Hannah is ambiguous to the last; it warms the clammy halls of this finely wrought yet strangely elliptical book, but doesn’t fully illuminate its darker corridors.

98 Reasons for Being
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