Title: The Asylum
Author: Karen Coles
Genres: Historical, Gothic
Publication Date: April 1, 2021
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.
What could be more Gothic than a Victorian lunatic asylum. Mental health care at that time was in it’s infancy, a thing of abuses and punishment in the guise of treatment and symptom control and this is where we find Maude.
A story within a story. The first timeline is set in the asylum and the second italicized timeline is Maud’s unearthed memories of her life before. Under hypnosis she gradually remembers working as an assistant to an elderly scientist with crazy, overtly religious servants, a incongruous wife in a house out of the hammer-horror movies.
At the start of the narrative Maude remembers very little, barely her name. She is helped to remember with the help of a young, kind, forward thinking doctor who is trained in hypnotism which he uses to unearth the memories of her past and the traumatic events which led to the repression of her memories and the subsequent amnesia.
This is a book where the characterizations are very black and white. This makes for villains who are truly evil and heroes who are heroic. This isn’t a bad thing and the bad guys are ones you can truly love to hate. The good guys are less two dimensional though. Maude has her flaws, she is so naive in the earlier timeline that I just want to slap her but she does get wise, but at what cost.
The ending was wonderfully satisfying and ticked all the boxes for me.
Suitable For: Adults
Violence: Quite a lot in both timelines
Drug Reference: Victorian drugs only (Laudanum etc)
A Gothic little number with some truly malicious characters you can love to hate. A very engaging and accomplished debut.
Karen Coles has come to writing later in life having spent most of her working life as a painter and sculptor after studying fine art in Cardiff. She lives in Wales not far from the site of the Angelton Asylum where this book is based.
She tweets @Kazzywrites