The Man Who Walked Away
Maud Casey’s poetic and beautiful account of a late 19th-century French mental asylum explores both patients’ and caregivers’ struggle with the new science of the mind. Young Albert is brought in by the town’s lamplighter when he’s found drifting in a trancelike state. He has been walking all over Europe, it seems, with no memory of life or identity except fleeting images. The asylum’s doctor takes a keen interest in his patient and discovers touchstones of his own life and mind during treatment. Both a kind nurse and fellow inmates bring Albert into their family behind the asylum’s gates.
With prose descriptions that are achingly beautiful, the effort of tormented souls to find peace and health comes through story. Likening Albert’s malady to the fairy tale of the Swan Prince, left with one wing by his sister’s incomplete magic, the doctor raises his wandering life to that of a hero’s journey. Albert’s answers to the doctor’s questions become “pebbles at the bottom of a vast and mysterious ocean.” The photographer stealing images from patients in agony discovers mysteries illuminated in the flash of a captured moment. Intimate and deeply human, the challenges of reading a narrative of madness are well rewarded with insight, beauty and understanding.