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Review: The Asylum by John Harwood

The Asylum

John Harwood

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.”…more.

My Rating:

A perfect web of mistaken identity and tucked away secrets unravel in John Harwood’s third novel, The Asylum. Like his previous work, this too is a novel of Victorian gothic suspense and mystery with haunting settings and winding dark halls of the human heart.

A young woman who believes herself to be Georgina Ferrars wakes in an asylum run by the pleasant and forward thinking Dr. Straker. She is at first a voluntary resident, having checked herself in as a Miss. Ashton. Her identity gets further jumbled up with another young woman, the real Georgina Ferrars, who is residing back home with her uncle. But how could that be, when she has all the memories from the childhood, but cannot recall much from the months leading up to how she came to be in the asylum.

Jumping between the present and a series of collected letters from Rosina, the cousin of Georgina’s mother, two generations collide in a very slow and most troubling puzzle. This book moves quickly but this doesn’t detract from the well-placed description or the necessities of the story. Harwood portrays the asylum and the relationships in shades similar to Fingersmiths by Sarah Waters. Not quite as dark, nor as complex as Kept by D.J. Taylor, The Asylum lacks a sense of real thrill or terror that comes so easily to the Victorian suspense novels.

Further problems with this novel erupt as the end comes tumbling together. Perhaps there wasn’t a plan on how this book would end. It reads a bit like someone was trying to wrap this all up quickly in a neat bow. Our antagonist, who could have been a striking and fearful character, refuses to build up to that momentum. In all, the story can take a bit of a backseat to our lead character, whom also lacks a bit of alteration to her character.

Given that this novel comes in at a little over 250 pages, the matter of character and story arc not reaching its fullest potential doesn’t impede the reading experience until after the book comes to a close. These are small problems in the scheme of The Asylum as a whole, which is overall very enjoyable and easy to read. Harwood’s third novel is a pleasantly woven web of mistakes, false identities, blackmail, greed and madness.

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