Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser


Mozart's Vienna. A crucible for scientific experimentation and courtly intrigue, as Europe's finest minds vie for imperial favour. In a colourful, chaotic private hospital that echoes with the shrieks of hysterical patients, Franz Anton Mesmer is developing a series of controversial cure-alls for body and mind. When he is asked to help restore the sight of a blind musical prodigy favoured by the Empress herself, he senses that fame, and even immortality, is within his grasp. Mesmer knows that he will have to gain her trust if he is to open her eyes. But at what cost to her fragile talent? And will their intimacy result in scandal?


In the 18th century Vienna, Dr. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, gained fame by creating a process to induce a trances in people as a cure or remedy for various illnesses. This powerful process became known as mesmerism, but Mesmer preferred to call it animal magnetism. 

Dr. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer

Many or most of his patients were women, as his trances were believed to help cure them of “hysterics”.
Mesmer was asked to cure a young pianist, Marie Paradis, of her blindness. He convinces her parents to move Marie into his hospital that housed his other patients. Despite their reservations, and because of their desperation to improve the life of their talented child, they agreed provided Mesmer allowed Marie plenty of access to his piano. What follows is a fascinating glimpse into Mesmer’s unusual methods, colorful patients, and personal family life.

Through the use of magnets, Mesmer believed he could alter the magnetism within a body. Although colleagues disputed this belief, it was his ability to put his patients into a trance that garnered the most attention and made him famous. Because his method required “touching” his patients, especially in the case of young women, he attracted scandalous attention.

This is a historical literary novel, and as such, the writing style takes a bit of getting used to. The sentences are often very short. Numerous point of view changes between characters sometimes occurred without transition, but once used to the unique voice and delivery, the story truly was fascinating. The story depicts Mesmer’s dedication and passion for his work, as well as his distress at being considered a quack. A colorful cast of characters add much interest to the story – a screaming hysterical female patient, Anna - his jealous wife, and an odd maid who keeps his secrets. There is a very entertaining twist near the ending, too.

For readers who like to read books with a touch of the odd and unusual, this novel certainly fits the bill. It accurately depicts some of the scientific beliefs of the era, along with a glimpse into the endurance of the human spirit in the quest to be perfect. Well worth reading!

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