In the High Peaks

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser--German Literature Month

Alissa Walser is the first German novelist I've read during this year's German Literature Month. Anna Kim and Wolf Haas, the authors of my two previous German-language novels in translation are both Austrian.

I gravitated toward Mesmerized because it's set in 18th-century Vienna, at about the same time as my previous read of the Canadian Eve Stachniack's novel about late-18th century Russia, The Winter Palace, which depicted the early years of the Saxon Princess Catherine in St. Petersburg, before her reign as Empress.

First off, I must say that until I ordered Mesmerized, I knew about Franz Anton Mesmer but had no idea his most significant legacy was a result of his work during the late-18th century. Because he realized the integral connection between body and mind before others, I always assumed he lived in the early-19th century. But that late-18th century--the time of the Enlightenment--was truly a time for revolutionary ideas and "thinking outside the box."

I liked the novel and most enjoyed being immediately ensconced into the Mesmer household, which was not only a place of daily treatments for patients, but also a rooming house for many of Mesmer's clients. The depiction of Maria Theresia Paradis's world as a blind and tormented young woman was exquisite and highly original, and was the best part of the book for me.

The ending was problematic from my point of view. From the time Mesmer enters Paris until the end of the book, I lose him as the character that was developed in the main body of the novel, and despite a rereading of the closing Paris chapters, I still was not able to find anything that connected me to him in the earlier chapters of the book. So much to me felt as though it was left mysterious, and, if I may use a word that may not make sense, too ethereal--not concrete, definitely vague.

I agree with Caroline's observation of the staccato sentence structure. For some reason, I was not distracted by this element at all, which surprises me! Perhaps, as Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat suggested, the English translator managed to smooth this out somehow--I don't know. But I do know what Caroline means when a seemingly disjointed style does not work. I have encountered that a number of times and have just had to toss the book. Style is extremely important to whether one can get into a book or not.

All in all, I would recommend this book, particularly to those who love historical fiction.

German Literature Month Alert: I am going to try to read a 4th book, a Gents' book. I believe I mentioned I wanted to read Demian by Herman Hesse. I've got to next to me right now.


  1. I am glad you liked it and that the style worked for you.
    I really wonder whether it's the translation. It wouldn't surprise me. I usually like short sentences but here it felt like a mannerism after a while.
    The ending felt a bit glued on, didn't it?

    1. Hi, Caroline,
      I agree the ending did indeed feel glued on. How sad, considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the book.
      And I do think the translation must have been a factor. Oh, Caroline, thank you so much for hosting the GLM! I had lots of fun!

  2. This sounds like a very interesting book. I am into 18th century history and will add this book to my hope to read list.

  3. Hi, mel u,
    I hope you enjoy this title! Let me know what you think!

  4. Even I enjoyed the Mesmer household, and like you, had was more intrigued by the writing style than annoyed.

    1. Priya,
      I'm so glad that you, too, enjoyed the book. It was one of those historical titles that provide a truly memorable reading experience!