The Asylum, by John Harwood

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. The book will be released on 21 May 2013. 

15814529Aside from slasher movies, few things are as frightening to me as Victorian mental asylums. The doctors who ran the Victorian asylums (and the asylums’ predecessors) not only had no idea how to help their patients, but had some notions that would actively harm them. The asylum portrayed in John Harwood’s The Asylum is not as scary as it could have been, when compared with notorious institutions such as Bethlem Hospital in London.

The book opens with Georgina Ferrars waking up in a strange bed in the Tregannon Asylum in Cornwall. Almost before she can get her bearings, she is informed by the doctor that she’s not who she thinks she is. Apparently, she arrived at the hospital and introduced herself as Lucy Ashton (the name of a character from a Walter Scott novel). Georgina tries to establish her identity by having the doctor send a telegram to her uncle in London, only to find out that someone has already taken her place and her name.

As Georgina tries to prove who she is and what happened during the six weeks she can’t remember, Harwood deepens the mystery by also showing us the letters of Rosina Wentworth. Rosina is an unhappy girl who is kept a virtual prisoner by her father after her older sister elopes. In spite of her father’s efforts, Rosina manages to meet a man and fall in love with him. Her story is absolutely captivating. The letters give way to Georgina’s journal, which details what our protagonist can’t remember. And then, believe it or not, Harwood managed to take an amazing story and kick it up another notch. But…I can say no more without giving away the end.

If you enjoy twisted (as in plot twists) historical fiction, with original characters and unusual motives, I highly recommend The Asylum.

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