30th July, 2021

Review: The Asylum by Karen Cross (Welbeck)

1906: Being a woman is dangerous, being different is deadly.

Maud Lovell has been at Angelton Lunatic Asylum for five years. She is not sure how she came to be there and knows nothing beyond its four walls. She is hysterical, distressed, untrustworthy. Badly unstable and prone to violence. Or so she has been told.

When a new doctor arrives, keen to experiment with the revolutionary practice of medical hypnosis, Maud's lack of history makes her the perfect case study. But as Doctor Dimmond delves deeper into the past, it becomes clear that confinement and high doses are there to keep her silent. When Maud finally remembers what has been done to her, and by whom, her mind turns to her past and to revenge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this somewhat slow-burning read (slow-burning meant in a positive way). Karen Cross' The Asylum is sinister and, if not full-blown creepy, it is grim and eerie. The story develops slowly as we experience the revelations about Maud's life along with her. Her stunning voice takes you right along - at least I was hooked immediately. I did have a hunch early on about how the book was going to unfold and this hunch was confirmed but that didn't take away anything from this wonderful tale. Maud is such an interesting character and I loved Dr Dimmond whose advocacy for the incarcerated heroine was simply touching.

Cross creates a stunning atmosphere of dread that becomes properly claustrophic in some scenes. She also has a wonderful eye for detail, describing the texture of the mist over the marshes or the intricacies of the quite unpleasant smells of the asylum. And all this time the reader feels like they are there with Maud and desperately wanting to find out what happened that got the protagonist stranded at the mental hospital. Some scenes about drastic methods of "treatment" are quite harrowing and will definitely make you thankful for being born now and not a good century ago. 

If you would like an emotional, gothic read, The Asylum may just be the right pick for you. You will feel despair for Maud's situation, be angry for her, and want to take revenge for what's been done to her. I highly recommend this fabulous book.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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