In a women’s psychiatric hospital, located in Switzerland, patients with different severe mental disorders live together until, at a certain moment, the lifeless body of one of the inmates appears. This is the plot of Waldau 44, a suspense novel by Pablo Ballester (libros.cc), professor of International Marketing, Communication Sciences and Spanish Language and Literature at the University of Modena, where he has lived for a decade. Ballester assures that writing is a necessity. “It’s a way to satisfy my hunger for creativity. I need it to live.” His first work was I am with you.
Why do you place it in Switzerland?
It is a postmodern novel, which takes place in 2019, in which all the characters are fictitious, but the situation is real. She wanted to place her in a psychiatric hospital that would work with the new technique of negotiating with patients, which began in a Norwegian center. And I found Waldau.
Does trading work?
Until a certain point. This type of modern psychiatry eliminates old methods such as lobotomy or straitjackets. That patients have the possibility to decide on the treatment can be very positive, but, in certain cases, also dangerous. In fact, everything gets out of control in the novel, especially when medication is mixed with other types of substances.
In the novel it is a combination of sex, drugs and madness.
In a way. Indeed, there is a drug, but not only that, since some patients mix it with too many barbiturates or painkillers, to appease their anger or dementia.
Despite the new techniques, it is reminiscent of a prison.
Yes, it is like a prison with 44 rooms. However, in reality there is currently in Italy what is called half-stay. They are volunteer centers that send inmates to homes with families, where they spend time.
In an interrogation, how valid are the testimonies of your characters?
It is precisely this that makes it so complicated because we are talking about totally deviant minds. There are those who are compulsive liars, those who have chronic hallucinations, those who suffer from visions… The inspector is the first to suffer the intersection of arguments and does not know what to expect. The reader is also not sure what is real, not even if the inspector is one of Nora’s personalities, one of the interns. Therein lies the mystery. And until the end it is not revealed if it really is a crime or not.
Why this novel about dementia?
I have written it in the last four years. I started it, I parked it and when the pandemic arrived I realized that fear had settled in us. I remember going to the supermarket and seeing how people ransacked it. That feeling of fear made me think that the human mind is very fragile, that fear often leads us to do things that are practically unthinkable. This feeling, which many people have discovered as a result of Covid, made me also finish Waldau 44.