The girl in Melanie Klein is Niobe Grynne brought to The Nest bald and mute; and with her arrival Mr. Harwood is off on one of those off-beat tempests in teapots that seem to be a British specialty.
For until Niobe's arrival life at The Nest was as peaceful as life can be in an asylum, even one that looks like a country estate. Prior to Niobe, The Nest seems to have had only three patients….
Hugo, Wassler, and Nora are a relatively contented threesome, who busily clean a swimming pool that will never be filled and play Nest Tennis, a game of their own invention…. (Nest Tennis is Ronald Harwood's happiest invention and provides a lovely Alice in Wonderland touch, a touch this novel could use more of.)
How the seemingly mad unravel what happened to Niobe Grynne (christened Naomi Green) and the aftermath comprise the bulk of the novel. Mr. Harwood's style is light, humorous, and suspenseful enough to keep the reader interested if not passionately involved. However, the question of sanity is what intrigues one with The Girl in Melanie Klein. Who is sane and who is insane? Is one to believe Niobe's story? If so, she is sane. But then again, should we believe Hugo's retelling of the story? Remember, he is our narrator. Niobe could be sane; we know that Hugo is mad. Or do we? After all, Dr. Lipschitz is in charge of Hugo's case, and there are some nagging doubts as to the doctor's mental stability. But that takes us back again to Hugo's reportage on Dr. Lipschitz.
It is this sort of puzzle-box approach that makes The Girl in Melanie Klein quietly tantalizing and something more than a suitable vehicle for a Peter Sellers screen romp. If you can imagine one novel as being both sunny and Pinteresque, The Girl in Melanie Klein is it. Or perhaps I too am mad.
Haskel Frankel, "Madness in the Nest," in Saturday Review, Vol. LII, No. 17, April 26, 1969, p. 58.