The Feet of the Wandering Mind

The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey (Bloomsbury USA)

The Man Who Walked Away is not so much a novel as a series of meditations within the minds of two characters: Albert, the walking man of the title, who suffers from what will eventually be labeled “fugue states,” and the Doctor, who treats Albert and invents the label the condition is given. Instead of a narrative arc, we watch the developing sense of self within the two main characters.

Albert and the Doctor have more in common than might be expected: each has lost his parents and is haunted by the worry of not having properly fulfilled his duties as a son; each has a self-concept that is fettered by the rigid class structures of the society in which he lives. For Albert these similarities aren’t significant. He shares his story with the Doctor, but the exchange is one way. For the Doctor, Albert poses a puzzle both external and internal. In trying to help Albert, the Doctor is forced to wrestle with questions at the heart of his own identity as well.

The language of this work is beautiful: trance-like, abstract, repetative. Though the book is relatively brief (240 pages), it is not a quick read. One has to slow down while reading, treating each word as a footstep and the reading process as a journey that cannot be rushed. In a sense this is a book about being, not doing, and being is a difficult status to articulate—not necessarily action-driven, a stillness as much as movement. Once the reader can embrace this state, The Man Who Walked Away offers a great deal of satisfaction.