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The Man Who Walked Away: A Novel by Maud…
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The Man Who Walked Away: A Novel

by Maud Casey

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Disclaimer: I tried valiantly to finish this book, but failed. If something happens in the final third that makes the novel brilliant, I didn't make it that far.

The Man Who Walked Away is a slow-paced, tedious story that meanders as aimlessly as the man in the title. The reader slides in and out of the consciousness of the wandering Albert, the Doctor, the Director, and other inmates at a mental hospital. Everything feels vague, in a fog - suitable for a book centered on a man whose faulty memory leaves him perpetually discombobulated, I suppose, but not terribly engaging to this reader.

None of the characters is quite developed enough to carry the story. It's a short book at 240 pages, and had more page time been devoted to the Doctor and Albert they could have been interesting. But with so many other patients to gawp at, no one feels fully realized and realistic. Perhaps if the book had been longer, each man or woman could have become more than the manifestations of his or her mental illness. I don't know. But the book in my hands is so lifeless that, as noted at the beginning, I couldn't even finish it. ( )
  makaiju | Jun 9, 2014 |
Albert has had a compulsion to walk since the age of thirteen. He has traversed most of Europe, has been arrested for vagrancy, has enlisted, then deserted, the army, yet, he has only fleeting and fragmentary memories of these journeys and events. Finally, a lamplighter, aware of Albert’s compulsion, takes him to the hospital of St . Andre in Bordeaux, once an abbey, now a Psychiatric Hospital. The unnamed Doctor develops his own obsession with Albert, promising that he won’t let him walk away again and, in the hospital, Albert feels that he can finally rest, that he will finally develop ties to the world of time, place, and memory just as his father had, before he died, tied Albert to his bed to make him stay, not out of cruelty but out of love and longing to keep his son at home.

The Man Who Walked Away is loosely based on the real case of Albert Dadas in the late 19th c at a time when psychiatry was still more art than science. Throughout the book, author Maud Casey shows the exploitation often visited on patients, brought out to ‘perform’ before other doctors, seemingly more for entertainment than for teaching purposes. The Doctor is fascinated by these patients, mostly women, who are diagnosed as hysterics. But he wishes to understand, not to exploit and his patients are treated with respect and acceptance of their various illnesses. The patients of the asylum are a wonderfully eccentric group and the staff are likable but it is Albert who moves this story with his vulnerability, his sense of loss, and his desire to please and be loved, but mostly in his desire to find a place and people who will never let him go.

Casey intertwines fact with fairy tale and, in so doing, she has created not only a marvelous narrative of the early days of Psychiatry but also a beautiful and haunting tale about the human need for memories and stories to tether us to time and place, how grief can cause us to become unmoored, and how kindness and compassion can bring us back again. This is not the kind of story to be consumed all in one sitting; it is slow, quiet, lyrical and thoughtful but ultimately satisfying for that reader who appreciates that sometimes the best stories, like music, are found, not in the movements but in the pauses between them. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Feb 28, 2014 |
Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-man-who-walked-away.html

The Man Who Walked Away is loosely based on the life of Jean-Albert Dadas, who lived in nineteenth century France. He suffered from an illness now known as dromomania - an uncontrollable urge to wander. He would repeatedly set out from his home on foot and find himself in cities far away before he regained conscious thought.

In this book, we meet Albert, the wanderer. We also meet Doctor, who is not named yet is a specific person. He works at an asylum and attempts to diagnose and help Albert. As such, the book takes us to a point in history when the identification and treatment of mental illness was just beginning. Albert's story is put in the context of the stories of the other asylum patients and in the context of the Doctor's own story.

That struggle to define Albert's life and the lives of his other patients is what occupies Doctor. Albert struggles to understand his illness and just cope. Interestingly, I find Albert and Doctor to be similar on many levels. Doctor attempts to help Albert put his life together, and Doctor himself struggles with things in his own past. The book leaves many of these issues unresolved, as is understandable when dealing with mental illness. There are no easy answers. Sometimes, there are no answers at all.

The book is about a curious piece of history that I was unfamiliar. The book is just a little too abstract for my taste. Most of it seems to be the musings of two minds - Doctor and Albert - somewhat untethered like Albert himself. I find myself reading the book from an academic interest and as a curiosity without really getting involved in the story.

*** Reviewed based on a publisher's galley received through NetGalley *** ( )
  njmom3 | Jan 15, 2014 |
The Man Who Walked Away is not so much a novel as a series of meditations within the minds of two characters: Albert, the walking man of the title, who suffers from what will eventually be labeled “fugue states,” and the Doctor, who treats Albert and invents the label the condition is given. Instead of a narrative arc, we watch the developing sense of self within the two main characters.

Albert and the Doctor have more in common than might be expected: each has lost his parents and is haunted by the worry of not having properly fulfilled his duties as a son; each has a self-concept that is fettered by the rigid class structures of the society in which he lives. For Albert these similarities aren’t significant. He shares his story with the Doctor, but the exchange is one way. For the Doctor, Albert poses a puzzle both external and internal. In trying to help Albert, the Doctor is forced to wrestle with questions at the heart of his own identity as well.

The language of this work is beautiful: trance-like, abstract, repetative. Though the book is relatively brief (240 pages), it is not a quick read. One has to slow down while reading, treating each word as a footstep and the reading process as a journey that cannot be rushed. In a sense this is a book about being, not doing, and being is a difficult status to articulate—not necessarily action-driven, a stillness as much as movement. Once the reader can embrace this state, The Man Who Walked Away offers a great deal of satisfaction. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Dec 29, 2013 |
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"In a trance-like state, Albert walks--from Bordeaux to Poitiers, from Chaumont to Macon, and farther afield to Turkey, Austria, Russia--all over Europe. When he walks, he is called a vagrant, a mad man. He is chased out of towns and villages, ridiculed and imprisoned. When the reverie of his walking ends, he's left wondering where he is, with no memory of how he got there. His past exists only in fleeting images"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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