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The Fig Eater

2.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,184 Ratings  ·  359 Reviews
It is hot, unusually hot for the end of August....Someone has murdered a young woman....They find no objects, no obvious clues around her....They'll search the area again tomorrow during the day, when there is better light.

VIENNA, 1910 - Freud's Vienna, a city of horse-drawn carriages, masked balls, and gaslit cafes - hovers on the threshold between darkness and light, s
Hardcover, 311 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Little Brown and Company (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Terri Garrett
Feb 17, 2012 Terri Garrett rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The main thing I have to say about this book is: WTF! Let me tell you, there WILL be a SPOILER ALERT so if you have any interest in actually reading this book...stop here.

I am not the kind of person who likes to give out the ending of books or movies...but, the ending was just so out of left field...its the only reason I have anything to say.

Basic premise: A woman, Dora, is murdered in turn of the century Austria.

The history of Austria and the descriptions are good...the writing itself is fine
May 02, 2014 Stacia rated it it was amazing
Finished The Fig Eater while lingering over a cup of coffee & freshly-baked Gruyère gougères today. Perfect. If you have some decadent food or wine or coffee or fruit or pastry to have with this book, all the better.

I absolutely loved this book. It is full of spare beauty, of opposites (the rational vs. the emotional; male vs. female; etc...), of art.

I'm dismayed to see the low ratings this book has received on amazon & Goodreads; I'm guessing many picked up this book thinking it is a tr
Aug 10, 2008 Shelah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A woman (based on Dora, a patient of Sigmund Freud) is found murdered in a Vienna park and a police inspector and his wife use two very different methods (scientific and intuitive) to race to solve the crime.

My sister had this book several years ago and I loved the cover and wanted to read it. A few weeks ago I bought my own copy and set to reading it. I noticed that it only had two and a half stars from amazon, but was undaunted-- it was exactly the kind of book that I would like. But it was se
Jul 18, 2012 Jessa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what to give this book.

I loved reading it. I read it in a couple days, during my commute, stayed up late, because I wanted to see how it would all work out.

UNFORTUNATELY I can totally see why people are unhappy.

SPOILERS, so don't read further if you don't want it spoiled.

Here are some of the INSANE number of questions you are left with at the end of the book, in no particular order.

2. How did Dora come in possession of the fig she ate?
3. Who thought
Jul 26, 2007 Lauren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book made me very grumpy. You see, it's the first book I've read since my daughter Ava was born 2 months ago. I was really excited to finally have time to read, and I spent a little downtime with The Fig Eater each night. The writing was fine, and the descriptions of early 20th-century Vienna were interesting, but ultimately this turned into a sort of werewolf book (actually, no "sort of" -- it's a werewolf book), and the final solution to the crime was just not that satisfying. All rather ...more
Aug 14, 2011 Marla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oh, goodness. The cover of this book is gorgeous and the description of the back cover had me itching to read it: Murder? In Vienna? In 1910? Yes, please! What could be better than a mash-up of historical fiction and murder mystery? Unfortunately, my expectations must have been miscalibrated because this book totally missed the mark for me.

The story follows the Inspector (who remains nameless) as he investigates the death of Dora, a young girl from a well-to-do Viennese family whose throttled bo
Jun 29, 2007 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the Viennese, detectives
Shelves: booksofthepast
I've read a number of reviews of this book that say it was disappointing, lacking in style, and that it fell short of its plot goals. I disagree on all accounts. I thought that Jody Shields had a wonderful writing style and that her characters all came together to create a very well rounded cast. The contrasting methods by which the detective and his wife explore the murder of young Dora (the detective through science and fact, the wife through intuition) were perfectly suited to the characters. ...more
Lindsay McMaster
Mar 17, 2014 Lindsay McMaster rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2009 Regina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I just couldn't get into this novel. I'm not sure why exactly - it was well written, well researched (the description of 1910 Vienna and Hungarian folklore were in-depth and interesting) and it had what promised to be a riveting plot line.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work. I found the book difficult to follow at times. I constantly found myself rereading sections because the transitions were choppy. The characters were not fully realized. Hoping that the book would "pick up", I trudged thro
J Earleywine
Sep 01, 2012 J Earleywine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could give this book a 3 1/2 star rating, but without that option, I'm rounding up to a 4 to make up for the, ahem, misplaced criticism of some of the other reviews.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the book cover, as one reviewer mentions, is pretty. Therefore, people enter a book—a work of fiction that quite explicitly sets out to re-imagine Freud's most famous case as a murder and investigation—as if they had picked up a pleasure fiction book rather than an extended work of researc
Feb 29, 2012 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disturbing, grotesque, sensual, intelligent, darkly fanciful. Grounded in understanding of the pscyho-socio background of Freud's Vienna and Hungarian folk belief. Shields's writing style is beautifully restrained, leaning towards screenplay. It is more novel than whodunnit. Multitudinous themes are woven into the story: the interplay between superstition and science in the fin-de-siecle, the culture blend of Austria Hungary, of Germanic/Anglo Europe with Slavic, Hungarian and Gypsy Europe, wome ...more
Margaret Gillette
Wow - what a slog! The high-light of this book was saying 'fiaker' out loud. Which is good because it is repeated 42 times on every page. Given the lack of significance of the actual fig (other than as a metaphor for lady parts and a plot furthering device) I think that a better title would have been 'Daughter's Fiaker' or something along the lines.

I would recommend this book to anyone who feels that the pace of life around them is too fast. This read is guaranteed to stop time for you. Its also
Jul 20, 2008 Janemarple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Only the great descriptive quality of this book pulled it up to 3 stars. Everything can be seen vividly in the mind. The story though, it has one pace only. It just chugs along with no rises or falls, like a flat line. For a book about a murder, not what I was expecting. Also the ending was very anticlimactic.
Sarah S.
Dec 02, 2010 Sarah S. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: Laura B.
Shelves: book-club
Oh boy...where to start with this one. First off, the teaser on the back flap clearly portrays this book as a thrilling murder mystery, "a page turning tale of murder, sleuthing, and sexual secrets". In actuality, it is a character study, focusing mostly on the inner workings of the Inspector and his wife, their backgrounds, their suspicions and superstitions. In fact, a massive portion of the book details how these two characters interact with each other, and this has no bearing that I can see ...more
Ally Wampler
Ahh Dora, not the explorer my mind assosciates with the name. Unfortunately I didnt know much about Freud's Dora (other than what I quickly read on Wikipedia). But as my college years will prove, Wikipedia was enough to get by and appreciate Shield's imagined tragic end for Dora - again not the explorer, unless you count sexually exploring older gentlemen and possible ladies too?

Anywho, it was a somewhat intriguing mystery, with a race between the inspector and wife (unbeknownst to them) to disc
Gah. I do not like this book. It's so stuffy and full of itself. I've gone through several mystery phases in life (JA Jance, MC Beaton, etc) but this is the only murder mystery that I really don't give a crap about solving. Who cares.
I brought it on vacation and avoided it until I really had nothing else to do. Slogged through a good half of it, but now that I'm home and have access to many more enjoyable books, I will probably never finish it.
Feb 18, 2008 Mandie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
started great but didn't go anywhere. disappointing.
Allison Lindenwillow
I was so surprised to find that people hated this book with such passion since I thought it was riveting, haunting, and gorgeous! I could not put it down and would stay up late to finish reading. I loved the subtlety of Ms. Shields writing that allowed the reader to engage with this book in a read-between-the-lines kind of way. I thought it was clever that you never really got a black and white, "here's what so-and-so thought was happening and he/she was right/wrong," because then you were able ...more
THE FIG EATER. (2000). Jody Shields. ***1/2.
This is a very good first novel from this author, though there are numerous flaws that I’m sure have been pointed out to her by this time. It is a mystery set in Vienna in 1910-1911. A young woman was found in a public park. She had been strangled. There were no clues as to whom the assailant might have been. The investigation is headed up by an inspector from the police force. He is a very good policeman; fact driven and operating by the book. Sudden
Nov 02, 2011 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book. It started out kind of slow and I honestly considered putting it down but it did pick up and I really started to enjoy it. It’s a mystery set in Vienna in the early 1900’s. It’s really interesting how the main character the Inspector investigates in that time period, in that area of the world. During this time period only men were inspectors so the Inspector is a man but interestingly enough his wife is also caring on her own investigation of the case at hand. This dual inv ...more
Jun 25, 2008 Jeanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young woman is found murdered in a Viennese park near the end of the summer in 1910. Only a few clues are found near the body, and the Inspector makes meticulous note of these in his notebooks. He has learned the psychological study of crime under Professor Hans Gross, now considered to be the father of criminology. The Inspector takes a very rational approach to his examination of the facts. [return][return]Meanwhile, his wife, Erszebet, a Hungarian adept at Romany arcana, launches her own in ...more
Jan 16, 2010 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 04, 2009 texast rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not the worst book I've read, but I would've rather spent my time reading something a little more satisfying.

I didn't have a problem with the writing or the characters. My problem was that the plot seemed to move very slowly and before I knew it I only had about 40 pages left and still didn't feel like much had happened. The story was boring, which is a shame because I did feel the characters were interesting. I also felt like a lot of the things that happened in the book were never explained or
May 28, 2009 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating premise: an inspector investigates the murder of a young woman found dead in a park in turn-of-the-century Vienna. While he investigates using conventional methods (interviews, police reports, autopsy reports), his wife, who is Hungarian and is descended from gypsies, conducts a parallel investigation, following more ethereal clues that include her intuition, "vibes" from items that belonged to the girl, tarot card readings, etc. All of this warrants a unpredictable, shocker of an en ...more
Bev Taylor
Dec 15, 2015 Bev Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
set in vienna in 1910

a woman is found murdered in a park and the inspector is called in to investigate her murder

she has been strangled and the only slightly strange thing they find is she recent ate some figs.

the girl, dora, is an 18 year old girl from a troubled family and relationships wit another family that deeply involved. there is certainly no lack of suspects

erzsebet is the inspector's hungarian wife who is steeped in folk tales and the gypsy lore of her native country becomes obsesse
Feb 14, 2015 Dorothy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've given this two stars because it deserves it for the writing, which is atmospheric. However it deserves only one star for the plot.

This starts out as a police procedural and the author has obviously done a lot of research into investigative procedures at the turn of the century, which is well-presented: detailed but not boring. However, it soon becomes obvious that the inspector's investigations are not the main story - instead, we're expected to believe that his wife becomes obsessed with t
This book gave an interesting window into early 1900s Vienna ... mainly from a perspective of gastronomy (without a lot of detail) and the cutting edge forensic science of the time. I happen to like those two things, so I enjoyed reading this. But that's mainly why I'm giving 3 stars because the plot wasn't strong. This work was more about being immersed in the ambiance of the time and seeing superstition contrast with scientific methodology in the context of a murder mystery.
Aug 26, 2015 Ela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were many things I admired about this book: the atmosphere, the narrative style, the characterisation and the portrayal of women to name a few. However the I did not buy into Jody Shield's construction of the mystery.

The conclusion was striking but somewhat anticlimatic. It failed to pull together all the evidence and storylines previously introduced by Sheilds. The importance of 'the Fig Eater' turned out to be irrelevant in the end, leaving me to feel that the author dwelled to long on a
Lee F.
Loved the beginning...really good writing...but it turned dark and I could not stay with it.
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Jody Shields is the former design editor of the New York Times Magazine and a former editor at Vogue, House and Garden, and Details. She has written several screenplays and has a master's degree in art. Her prints are in various collections, including the Museum of Modern Art. She lives in New York.
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“The fig tree grows its flowers strangely inside out, concealed within the soft interior of the fruit. Erszébet imagines the fig's hidden fairy weight of seeds, grown in sweetness that is also a darkness. Like treasure in a cave.” 3 likes
“She once told him about the mysterious trampled-down places found in fields, which the peasants superstitiously called werewolves' nests. Coming across one of these sites, she fell to her knees and buried her face in the flattened yellow grasses, hoping to inhale the odor of a werewolf, a csordásfarkas. As if his scent was a charm. She smelled nothing but hay burned by the afternoon sun.” 2 likes
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