This is my first foray into a novel by Maud Casey (The Shape of Things To Come, Geneology) and it was mind-bending. The book follows two narratives. Albert’s inner thoughts populate one of them. He is an ambler, a friendly walker who finds himself in the medium merchant towns of middle Europe.
When Albert walked, people treat him like a prince; they are that kind. Even the men who put him in prison have been gentle. … He is always very clean. Cleanliness is not easy when there is dust and, after it rains, mud to contend with. Even in fields of corn, of cotton, of olives, in the fields filled with sheep, cattle, and hogs (not all of them friendly), he manages. On the road, there are lakes and ponds and rivers. He resorted to large puddles of rainwater, but he is always clean. … The mayor of somewhere else entirely puts his arm around Alberts shoulder and says, “No go home to Bordeaux. There’s nothing better than returning home.” But to Albert, kicking a fallen apple through the tall grass of another cemetery of toppled, crowded gravestones, home is never more than when he is leaving, and he is always leaving, tugged like a balloon into the air. ~Pg. 20
The other main narrative is a Doctor, who directs an asylum. He is described as “a man who treats patients as children rather than animals, who prefers walks in nature to bloodletting, chains, and manacles, who has faith that patients may be restored through self-discipline in a place that is more a household than an institution.” This Doctor travels to Paris for a conference with other psychological experts. The Doctor attends a lecture that is clearly based on that of Jean-Martin Charcot, the leading professor on the subject of hysteria and other neurological problems. It seems, however, that the Doctor only takes away the practice of hypnosis.
When Albert wanders into the Doctor’s asylum, the two begin a special partnership to uncover Albert’s past.
Amidst the Doctor’s attempts to recover Albert’s memories, we are also privy too some of the idiosyncrasies of other patients at the ward. Marian is convinced that the Sun is stealing her inner organs. Rachel believes there is not only a frog living inside her stomach, but that it is also insisting that she play the piano. And there is the veteran who will not be called be name.
This is a rather heartening look at institutionalized life. This Doctor truly believes in his patients and the work he is doing. The patients are described with tenderness, even when the narrative is humorous. I’ve certainly never read anything else like it.
Imprint: Bloomsbury USA
Dimensions: 5 1/2″ x 8 1/4″
List price: $25.00