All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Asylum – John Harwood

on June 5, 2013

AsylumThe Asylum
John Harwood
Vintage (Random House AU)
2013, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Georgina Ferrars awakes to find herself in a private asylum with absolutely no memory of how she came to be there. Although she apparently checked herself in as a ‘voluntary patient’ when she wants to leave she is persuaded not to by the doctor. Although she remembers her name and bits and pieces about her life are coming back to her, the doctor in charge tells her that she checked in under another name.

Georgina is an orphan who has been living with her uncle in London. She beseeches the doctor to contact her uncle, who must surely be missing her by now. The doctor does so but then he receives a telegram back saying that the woman in the asylum cannot possibly be Georgina Ferrars because Georgina is currently at his home in London with him and has not been missing at all. Georgina is stunned – she cannot imagine how this could possibly have happened. The doctor even visits the home of her uncle himself and assures her that yes, he did see a young woman there who was Georgina Ferrars and spoke with the staff present and they all said that Georgina had not been missing. Because of his young patient’s ‘fragile mind’ the doctor chooses to keep the woman who believes that she is Georgina in the asylum, sectioning her himself.

Georgina knows that something has gone terribly wrong. She knows who she is, she remembers her mother, her childhood, even her uncle but there are definitely things after that that are a blank. She still has no memory of how she came to be at the asylum and what had convinced her to check herself in. If she is Georgina then who is the woman at her uncle’s home and what is her motive for being there and claiming to be Georgina? And if she is not Georgina then who is she? And what is wrong with her? The questions whirr around in her mind as she copes with the daily rituals of being in the asylum. Although the therapy is gentle and it’s not as bleak as some similar institutions, Georgina slowly uncovers the secrets behind its hidden doors and just why she’s there – and what they plan to do to her.

I was super keen to read Asylum because along with amnesia, a mental asylum setting is definitely one of my favourite things. This one starts off well – this is set back in late Victorian times in England so anyone even remotely showing signs of mental distress was usually locked away in a sanatorium and forgotten about. Medical practices were barbaric and what was the norm then is looked upon with horror and disgust now. However, Georgina lucks out a little – the mental asylum in which she makes up is certainly progressive in most ways although its lead doctor does use some unorthodox treatments, including acting out delusional patients greatest fantasies.

Georgina’s panic upon wakening to find out where she is and that she checked herself in there voluntarily, was excellently done. Her fear and disbelief, her anger and terror were all conveyed brilliantly, as well as her frustration when it became obvious that they didn’t believe her. I found myself getting frustrated on her behalf. As more and more evidence seems to come back that she is not Georgina Ferrars, the spirit and fight slowly goes out of her – but never all the way. She shows such remarkable resilience and cunning when really you couldn’t blame her for just curling up in a ball somewhere and weeping over her lack of fortune. Instead she concentrates on gathering her knowledge, on trying to remember how she came to be there. She has little to go on, other than the fragments of memory in her mind and knowing that somewhere, there is a diary. The woman claiming to be Georgina in her uncle’s home wants it back and Georgina is certain it holds the key to everything – that she really is Georgina, what she’s doing here and exactly who the other woman is. She wants to find it, seeing as she’s sure she would’ve brought it with her and when she does, she’s going to use it in order to secure her freedom.

I thought that the first probably two thirds of this book really were excellent and I was absolutely riveted. However the latter part and the ending weren’t quite as climactic as I expected and the unravelling of the story didn’t have quite the impact I was after. I would’ve liked a little more time spend on the ending, especially what happened to Georgina after the rather dramatic incident and I wanted to know what she decided to do with her life after all the information came out. Also a lot of the reveals came about by greatly detailed letters and diaries which was awfully convenient. I’ve kept a diary for years on and off but I’ve never recorded my entire day right down to every conversation I’ve had with people, word for word. It was the same for some of the letters that delved deep into the past to help bring about the answers. It made for good reading because it fleshed out a lot of the backstory but there was a part of me that kept thinking about how utterly unlikely it all was.

The Asylum was a good read that kept my attention but I wish more had been made of the creepy setting and that the ending hadn’t been quite so abrupt.


Book #138 of 2013

LitExp ChallengeI’m counting this book towards my participation in the Literary Exploration challenge for mystery. I think the mystery is the strongest part of the novel – is she really Georgina? If not, then who is she? And if she is, who is the woman who claims to be Georgina? This is the


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