Glauser’s personality disorder adds a touch of verisimilitude to his novel In Matto’s Realm which is set in a lunatic asylum. Matto means crazy in Italian and hence a worker at the asylum calls the place the realm of Matto.
” The devil’s been dead for ages, but Matto is still alive…”
Sergeant Studer, a police-officer, who has had to claw his way back in the police hierarchy because of an unfair deal being meted out to him, is called to an insane asylum in Bern. A child murderer has escaped from the asylum and the Director too is missing. The Deputy-Director Dr. Ernst Laudner specifically asks for Studer to be assigned to the case as they had met briefly once years before.
As Studer starts his investigations, he realizes that he is slowly losing focus. He becomes interested in the inmates and what has led to their being incarcerated in the asylum. Even when the stakes become high with the discovery of the body of the director, his compassion for the patients and the doctors prevents him from grilling them. In many ways thus this book is not a conventional whodunit let alone a police-procedural. The focus is more on the nature of madness and how and why society decides that some people be kept apart. The author’s own personal history makes the book present a sympathetic portrayal of the people kept in confinement. One wonders as to who really is diseased: those branded mad or those outside the walls? In one of the most chilling passages of the book, Studer and Launder listen to a speech on the radio:
The military march faded out and a foreign voice filled the room. It was an urgent voice, but its urgency was unpleasant.
“Two hundred thousand men and women are gathered here to cheer me. Two hundred thousand men and women have come as representatives of the whole nation, which is behind me. Foreign states dare to accuse me of breaking a treaty. When I seized power this land lay desolate, ravaged, sick… I have made it great, I have made others respect it… Two hundred thousand men and women are listening to my words and with them the whole nation is listening….”
Laudner slowly got up and went over to the shiny box from which the words were coming. A click, the voice fell silent.
“Where does Matto’s realm end, Studer?” the doctor asked quietly. (206)
In fact, the novel first published in serial form in 1936, turns prophetic when the doctor continues in the same vein:
“The man who was talking just now was lucky. Had he had a psychiatric examination at the beginning of his career, perhaps the world might look a little different today. As I said before, contact with the mentally ill is contagious. And there are people who are particularly susceptible – whole nations can be susceptible. I once said something in a lecture to which people objected. Certain so called revolutions, I said, are basically nothing more than the vengeance of psychopaths…..” (207)
Vengeance of psychopaths…the phrase made me pause. I never quite saw revolutions in this light. And there are many places in this novel that made me stop in tracks and reflect. Distressing questions that have no answers, or not easy ones at any rate. The book even ends with a question mark, with one not really certain that the correct conclusion has been reached.
First Line: It’s five o’clock in the morning , a time when respectable people are still fast asleep in their beds, and the telephone rings.
Title: In Matto’s Realm
Author: Friedrich Glauser
Original Title: Matto Regiert
Original Language: German
Translator: Mike Mitchell
Publication Details: London: Bitter Lemon Press, 2006
First Published: 1936
Other Books read of the same author: None
The book can be purchased on the Net. I was sent this book by the publishers after the first German Literature Month in 2011. In fact, this book used to make me feel extremely guilty because though I have received a few books from the publishers, this was the first time that a note accompanied it:
Not to have read it after such a sweet note was pretty guilt-inducing but I wanted to read it specifically during a German Literature Month. Last year, with the whole of November almost in the hospital, I couldn’t do so. I am glad I read it this year and have discovered an author whose works I’d like to read. My thanks to Caroline and Lizzy for holding the German Literature Month year after year and to the people at Bitter Lemon Press.
Submitted for various challenges and Friday’s Forgotten Books at Pattinase.