Alissa Walser’s Mesmerized is set against the backdrop of Vienna in the late 1700s. It follows the story of the German physician Franz Mesmer who believed in – and practised – the movement of life energy through the body with the help of magnets to cure patients with a myriad of complaints. He called this “animal magnetism”.
Mesmerized focuses on one such patient, Marie Paradis, a blind musical prodigy in favour with the Empress. Mesmer convinces Marie’s overprotective parents to let her move into his home, which is where he treats his patients. Part of his method is to place his hands on the body to help with the cure. And so a scandal begins.
This is a colourful, vivid novel, full of noise and music. Yet the prose is languid and dreamy. Set over a short period of time, it is beautifully written, and one can’t help but feel sorry for the peacock of a doctor, dressed in his purple silks and employing dubious medical practices while his heart is in the right place.