Thursday, October 13, 2011

Asylum by Patrick McGrath

It's unfortunate that the synopsis on the back cover makes it sound so tawdry because this is actually a really good book. The reviews were favorable and the opening lines intriguing, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It could be anything from weird and dark to cheesy and lame. I don't know, maybe I've been influenced by Hollywood, but the notion of  an 'asylum' puts me in mind of the pre-Victorian insane asylum of the shackle and straight-jacket, whips and cages kind. Or it could go into the more current zombie/Silence-of-the-Lambs territory. But it was neither. Asylum is a psychological thriller of a more cerebral kind. I was completely engrossed from the very first pages. It's narrated by Dr. Peter Cleave, the superintendent of a maximum-security mental institution in the English countryside, retelling the story of two of his patients who are hopelessly obsessed with each other. Dr. Cleave narrates as if he is presenting a case study and so describes his observations and treatment techniques, which I found most interesting. The ending has some twists and is a tad predictable but is good and tense nonetheless.

(opening lines)
The catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years now. Such relationships vary widely in duration and intensity but tend to pass through the same stages. Recognition. Identification. Assignation. Structure. Complication. And so on. Stella Raphael's story is one of the saddest I know. A deeply frustrated woman, she suffered the predictable consequences of a long denial collapsing in the face of sudden overwhelming temptation. And she was a romantic. She translated her experience with Edgar Stark into the stuff of melodrama, she made of it a tale of outcast lovers braving the world's contempt for the sake of a great passion. Four lives were destroyed in the process, but whatever remorse she may have felt she clung to her illusions to the end. I tried to help but she deflected me from the truth until it was too late. She had to. She couldn't afford to let me see it clearly, it would have been the ruin of the few flimsy psychic structures she had left. 

Another enjoyably dark and brooding read for this time of year.



RIP challenge #5 - check!

10 comments:

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

When I hear the word asylum, people in straight jackets, cages, drool and sometimes even Bertha from Jane Eyre pops into my head. When a novel features an asylum, it's quite melodramatic, but the premise and writing of Asylum sounds very intriguing. I definitely have to check this out.

Beth said...

From those opening lines, it seems like a book about survival – and very intriguing.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I do not read enough thrillers. I would probably enjoy this one even if it was cheesy!

Trish said...

Darlyn - I know, right? This cover and title really aren't doing the story justice, I think.

Beth - Yes, desperation and survival.

Sam - Give it a try and let me know what you think.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have place a hold for the library eBook on this one. I like the sound of it. Nice review.

Trish said...

Thanks! I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Kailana said...

This sounds interesting. I am going to have to see about getting a copy.

trailsofthepen said...

I think I can read this. :D The opening was very interesting when he described a bit of character's professional world.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really enjoyed this book! There was just something about the whole feel of the book: the title, the haunting storyline, the characters...ahh, Gothic reading urge satisfied. I've got a few more books by Patrick McGrath and I'm eager to read them. I ended up researching Patrick McGrath extensively after finishing Asylum and his father used to be the head man in charge at Broadmoor, which is a famous asylum in England. Creepy Gothic beginnings in childhood and all, huh :) There's also an extremely interesting interview with Mr. McGrath about Gothic paintings from the 1600s or so and their meanings. Can you tell I was fascinated? :)

Trish said...

I really liked his writing style and imagery. With a childhood like that, no wonder he's so good at it! I'm also a big fan of the Gothic genre so that's good to know he has more books like this one. I'm on the look out for more.