Sunday, April 21, 2013

99. The Alienist by Machado De Assis.


The Alienist by Machado De Assis. Translated by William L. Grossman
The Art of the Novella

Rating: (3/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

1881, June 2012, Melville House Publishing, 86 pgs
Age: 18

"Brilliant physician Simão Bacamarte sacrifices a prestigious career to return home and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors. . . .
With dark humor and sparse prose, The Alienist lets the reader ponder who is really crazy."

Purchased a copy on subscription from Melville House.

Taking place in a fictional small town in Brazil, this is a farcical look at the new science of psychiatry, whose practitioners are called Alienists, and what exactly it means to be mad.  Who can claim someone is insane versus someone else? What exactly is normal? Are we all mad? Is normalcy a sign of insanity?  Many such circular questions are examined in this farce.  I enjoyed the story but wasn't overly taken with it.  The main character, Bacamarte, a scientist, physician, alienist is studying and experimenting madness and sanity on the residence of a small town.  I found him quite over the top and unbelievable, while the residents were gullible and also unrealistic but then one is aware at each turn that this is a farce and over the top unrealistic characters are the norm for such fare.  An interesting and enlightening take on sanity/insanity especially coming from this Victorian era.  I'm glad to have read it but does not make me interested in the author's other work.

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