The Asylum – a review

The Asylum by John Harwood

There seems to be a theme, in a number of the books I’ve read, being that a woman’s confinement within an asylum has been part of some great conspiracy to, as I’ve noted before, silence them.

This is the kind of thing I’d love to study, and write a paper on. And I might just do that!

The Asylum — where do I start?
The Asylum, by John Harwood, is another great find in the “neo-Victorian” historical fiction genre. The characters, narrative, and atmosphere reeked of rich, Gothic elements. Just about every convention of the Gothic literary genre can be found in this novel.

The heroine of the novel, Georgina Ferrars, wakes up in Tregannon House (an asylum) with no memory of why or how she got there. Dr. Maynard Straker informs her that she came of her own free will, under the name of Lucy Ashton, but then suffered a seizure (causing her to lose her memory). Desperate for answers (and for someone to confirm her sanity), Georgina pleads with Dr. Straker to contact her only living relative, her uncle Josiah, so that he may identify her.

Now pay attention, dear readers, for one of our first Gothic conventions!

Her uncle swiftly responds, informing Dr. Straker that Georgina Ferrars is in fact at home with him, stating,

Your patient must be an imposter. (14)

Dun dun dunnn! Doppelgängers! I was just waiting for this line to come, “But if you’re there, then who’s…?” but sadly, it didn’t.

Now, I’ve mentioned a theme of silencing women — that is, I’ve found in my readings of “neo-Victorian” literature — by committing them. In The Asylum, there are a number of motives behind silencing Georgina Ferrars. The doppelgänger, of course, has her own motive — she wishes to take Georgina’s place. This was a very interesting, very different, kind of “silencing” for me to read in the genre. I haven’t as yet come across one like it, where the silencer or oppressor wasn’t a man. Though, in reading further, you will find there is a lot more to it than simply trying to take someone’s place, it soon becomes about erasing a person entirely. But, why would you want to erase the evidence of someone? I’ll leave that for you to figure out, because I assume you’ll go buy the book now.

The structure of the book was a little confusing, as the narrative moves through time, back and forth, but I took little issue with that. Each character and setting was so richly defined, I always knew which character was the focus (Georgina, Emily, and Rosina). The characters were all three-dimensional, and their desires and motivations believable. Save for one. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

It is certainly a difficult feat, creating such depth for most, if not all, the characters, considering a number of the characters and their actions are conveyed only through a series of letters. I wished there could have been more play on that; the notion of the unreliable narrator, because the reader finds the story, or series of stories, through the eyes of three different characters.

However, there were so many characters it was hard to keep up. I especially had difficulty figuring out the family trees.

I actually drew up a family tree to help me keep track. When I get the chance I’ll post it up.

Spoilers from here. Do not read further if you do not wish for the book to be spoiled. Well, who wishes for a book to be spoiled anyway?

And, it proved difficult even remembering Georgina’s and the doppelgänger’s identities. I don’t mean confusing them together, I mean, their names kept changing! (Draws in long breath) First it’s Georgina Ferrars. She admits herself to the asylum as Lucy Ashton, but it’s discovered the name is actually Lucia Ardent (and that ‘Lucy Ashton’ was just a disguise), except that Lucia Ardent is actually the name of the doppelgänger. Then, Georgina discovers her mother is not actually her mother, so instead of Ferrars, she’s actually a Mordaunt! So, she’s Georgina Mordaunt. (Releases breath).

My years of watching soap operas did help keep me up to date though 😉

The Asylum by John Harwood

I would have easily rated this book a Wuthering Heights, or Wormwood: A Drama of Paris, were it not for the ending. It wasn’t the type of ending that bothered me (though you know I have a particular love), it was the ‘bad guy’ spiel, the I’m-going-to-tell-you-everything-of-my-plans-because-I’m-going-to-kill-you-anyway-and-it’ll-be-of-little-consequence-should-I-do-so speech that every bad guy gives. It’s one of those cliches I could have done without, and it really bothered me after Harwood worked so hard to build this eerily beautiful and sublime Gothic atmosphere — one which won me over so easily.

I felt the ‘bad guy’ spiel undermined all of that (the atmosphere, story, plot, etc), and cheapened it, really, to the point that I groaned loudly when reading it. And it didn’t seem plausible that Dr. Straker was the big bad — I warned there’d be spoilers! He seemed suspicious and guilty of something, yes — perhaps in not being completely honest with Georgina — but it was rather elaborate the explanation behind all the incidents, behaviour, etc. One key example is the explanation behind Georgina’s seizure and subsequent memory loss at the beginning of the novel. I honestly groaned and rolled my eyes upon the revelation. I didn’t like it, but to Harwood’s credit, I never believed Dr. Straker when he said Georgina had a seizure — it was all too convenient that she couldn’t remember why she was at the asylum in the first place. I didn’t trust Dr. Straker even then, but it didn’t develop; there wasn’t enough to justify his actions at the end.

Really, to me, the ‘bad guy’ spiel seemed to come across as a clunky means of tying up loose ends (or answering questions the reader may have had), and creating a convenient justification for actions, and whatnot, unexplained. But, I guess, that is pretty much the motive of a ‘bad guy’ spiel, isn’t it? Why else would you have one?

And so that leads me to the other reason I decided on a lower rating — it just was not believable to me that Dr. Straker was the big bad, especially when considering the story and plot. His motives were minuscule and, frankly, I did not understand them. It was essentially a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde moment, except there was no build up to it — it was completely unexpected, and not in a good way. At least, not in my opinion.

One of Georgina’s greatest villains in the novel — the doppelgänger — becomes a meek shell of a person who doesn’t completely own her actions. Instead, this grand villain becomes the epitome of the Canadian never-ending apology…

Kate Beaton Canadian stereotype funIt seemed a little convenient for Georgina to be able to face her daemon finally (who had a mountain of motive, mind you), and forgive her so easily. Let’s recap though.

The doppelgänger (and main villain of the piece), Lucia Ardent, knows that Georgina has been falsely committed — it is revealed she is the one who sends the telegram, on “behalf” of the uncle. She is aware that Georgina has been trapped roughly five months in that damned asylum. She always had ill intentions, as she confesses at the end of the novel. And so, I simply cannot grasp Georgina’s ability to forgive so readily. In fact, Georgina decides that she will help keep Lucia out of prison for her crime.

Is it merely because there was a greater evil at work? That they had a common enemy in the end?

If I could go back in time, I’d tell past Cadence, “Stop about 80-90% in. You won’t like the ending.” Still, you guys know what I’m like. I like tragedies, I like sad or open endings, and I like the absence of ‘bad guy’ spiels.

BUT, revelation after revelation, this book was full of surprises and kept me on my toes. Despite the semi-predictable love elements to the story (even the one of a taboo nature!), there weren’t a lot of instances of me going, “Well, I knew that was going to happen!”

Again, the atmosphere and characters were rich and well-defined, and I’m always a fan of a bit of epistolary writing — another lovely Gothic element!

If I had stopped 80-90% in, I would have rated The AsylumWormwood: A Drama of Paris, or even a Wuthering Heights, but because I read to the very ending, I had to change my rating. So, instead…

I rate this book a Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The scale:
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
4. The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
3. The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James

Read more about the scale here

 


Image credits: Kate Beaton

Hardwood, John. The Asylum. Mariner Books: Boston and New York, 2013. Print.
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Florence & Giles – a review

Florence and Giles by John Harding

Florence & Giles, by John Harding is unlike anything I’ve read before. Sure, I’ve seen the Gothic elements before, but I’m talking about the language. At first I was like, “Jeez, there seems to be a few errors.” then I was like, “Have I forgotten English?” then I realised, “Ah!” and then it was like, “Holy shit! I love this!”

…for a girl my age I am very well worded. Exceeding well worded, to speak plain. But because of the strict views of my uncle regarding the education of females, I have hidden my eloquence, under-a-bushelled it, and kept any but the simplest forms of expression bridewelled within my brain. (5)

Florence is a girl who has been banned from reading. “Banned from reading?” I hear you say. “Bollocks to that!” You’re damn right, and Florence does not accept this rule of ‘illiteracy’ implemented by her uncle. While her younger brother, Giles, is sent off to school, Florence whiles away her days by sneaking into the library to read. From The Monk, by Matthew Lewis (yeah, I know what you’re thinking — and she’s only a young girl!) to The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, and Jane Eyre, by you-know-who, it is clear that this 12-year-old is more cultured than me! Yeah, yeah, they’re on my TBR list, I assure you. Well, I’ve started The Mysteries of Udolpho… but anyway, back to the review.

When you read this book you see, hear, and feel her invented language. It’s very beautiful, and pleasing to the senses, in my opinion at least. This was another “Holy shit!” moment (it’s a long quote, because I loved it so much):

All I awared was that she neglected Giles, in whom she had less interest than in brushing her hair and mirroring her looks; I innocented her true nature and when she tragicked upon the lake I near drowned myself in a lake of my own tears, it so upset me. I thought her merely foolish and I guilted I had so despised her almost as much as I guilted that I did not save her, even though it impossibled me to do so, and kept thinking ‘if only I had this’ and ‘if only I had that,’ even though all these things would nothing have availed. (72)

I really wanted to add the entire block of text, as I found it so mesmerising, but it is indeed quite long as is. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but please calm down. I definitely would not consider this a spoiler. This particular scene is mentioned in the blurb. I merely wanted to give you a taste of the beauty of this novel; of Harding’s story, and of Florence’s words.

Florence and Giles by John Harding

So, the story
As you know, Florence is pretty well trapped inside a mansion with nothing to occupy her time. She is encouraged to take up embroidery (as many of her sex are encouraged to do), instead she uses the opportunity to hide her books beneath her work, and sneak a read whenever possible.

I have to say, as I side note, I am just loving reading all these books about women who defy their oppressors. Though, as you know (and from my reading of other works of the genre), most of those women are seen as a disgrace to their sex and are committed to asylums, to “cure” their waywardness. Or silenced, as I’ve discussed in other posts. In any case, they have been enjoyable reads, and quite empowering too! And, in reading these types of books, I am compelled to write a short essay on why “neo-Victorian” literature is becoming a means of conveying female empowerment.

Sorry, no more distractions
Florence also finds a kind of safe haven where she can read for hours without disruption. I’d honestly love something like that; a place, like Florence’s, where it’s difficult for others to access. I’m thinking something like a hidden room behind a book case! Sigh! Damn my wandering mind.

When Giles gets kicked out of school, Florence feels a sense of respite — they’re finally back together. But their bliss is short-lived when, after the death of their governess, a second one arrives, who completely overshadows the first in evilness. For while the first (Miss Whitaker) “unlibraried” Florence and the second (Miss Taylor) actually re-instated her librariedness (now I just made that one up!), Miss Taylor’s true motives soon become clear. To Florence, she is a spectre who wishes to do Giles harm. This (Part Two of the novel) is where the Gothic conventions are really thrown in your face. You cannot help but wonder if Miss Taylor truly is the evil spectre (of a vendetta-fuelled Miss Whitaker) as Florence imagines, or if her actions are misunderstood, and that Florence merely creates an enemy in her for she fears losing her brother — it is one thing to be lonely by yourself, and entirely another thing to be lonely because your brother has been stolen away by the affectionate hand of a stranger. In either case, I was hypnotised by every aspect of the novel, and scrupulously analysed every word, every action, because I was looking for clues, and even the tiniest moment was significant. For this reason, the book deserves at least a second read through — I want to take in each moment again, with the wonderment of hindsight on my side!

A love interest?
Yeah, there’s a bit of that going on. Theo Van Hoosier dotes on Florence, and even writes her terrible poetry in his attempt to win her. Still, terrible poetry is kind of sweet, if you like the guy (or girl). Their relationship sort of reminds me of the relationship between Eleanor and Mr. Ashwood (Henry) in my historical fiction, Eleanor. It’s a relationship that’s one…um… no, it’s probably best I don’t divulge any more.

And because I can’t help being cryptic, I must say, I do wonder about this line though…

My heart hopelessed a bird-in-a-cage flutter. (107)

And damn the beauty of it! Damn Florence and damn John Harding!

The ending
You guys know how picky I am with endings, but this novel’s ending… oh my god! I loved it. It was brilliant. Though I had an inkling of what was to come, Florence really came to life at the end, and I did not expect that. Her true nature — all the dark, macabre parts — was so thrilling to read. It was simply survival; her need to protect her brother (but perhaps she was influenced by her literature as well?), and I drank it up so easily. I loved her dark side.

Of course, I will not spoil it, I just had to tell you how much I loved Florence’s callous nature. It was beautiful, in a way. In a macabre way, haha! I told my partner about one particularly dark scene and how I loved it so much, and would possibly do the same were I in her position, and I was met with a face stricken with horror. Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t have said that!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Florence & Giles has certainly convinced me to get cracking into The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James — another in my TBR bookcase, and a book which inspired Harding’s novel — and I will absolutely have to get myself a copy of Harding’s novel, The Girl Who Couldn’t Read.

Oh my god! I just went to my study and found that I already have a copy of it, haha! I will get into it asap. But, has that ever happened to you? You buy a book then realise you already have a copy? I have two copies of The Last Man, two of Jane Eyre, two of Beloved, and probably a lot more double-ups than that. Jeez!

Anyway, Florence & Giles was an amazing read, and I will absolutely be reading through it again soon. I highly recommend this book if you’ve read any of the works or authors that Florence has read, such as Radcliffe, Lewis, Collins, Brontë, Coleridge, Poe, Shakespeare, Scott, Austen, Whitman, Longfellow, Trollope, Eliot, Wordsworth, Dickens, Keats (though not sure about The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon). But I’d say, particularly, Gothic horror.

N.B.: There are some theories about this book; about the characters, their origins (Miss Taylor, for example appears seemingly from nowhere), their actions (whether they were just, for instance), and I am a little uncertain myself, I confess. I have my own theories, and I would love to hear yours. So, drop me a line if you wish to chat all things Florence & Giles.

I rate this book a Wuthering Heights.

The scale:
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
4. The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
3. The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James

Read more about the scale here

 


Harding, John. Florence & Giles. Blue Door: London, 2010. Print.

An unintentional review post on Wildthorn

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

All of my books have arrived in the mail. Woo! I can’t wait to crack into them!

I recently finished reading Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland. It was amazing! But, I will speak (write?) more of that in a minute. I just started Florence and Giles, by John Harding. It was so difficult to choose (from those above), but I wanted to go with something not so terribly close to Wildthorn, in terms of plot or story, as it would possibly all bleed together, and I haven’t had any breaks from reading. So, a different story will have to be the break. It is hard though, as I have obviously chosen a particular type of novel I am after for the comps. I might consider straying away for a wee while, after Florence and Giles — either a break entirely, or temporarily move on to another genre — before my brain implodes.

But firstly, I want to talk about Wildthorn.
I haven’t read a book so remarkably rich in detail, so powerful, and with a plot and story so gut-wrenchingly beautiful yet painful, in a very long time. It was full of twists — some I could see coming, though most I could not — scandals, secret and forbidden loves, betrayal (like, I-want-to-punch-that-person-in-the-face betrayal), as well as I-want-to-punch-that-person-in-the-face-again loss and sadness. I was also very fond of the language, style, and tone of the novel. And, the research that went into this book? The detail of the asylum, the “treatments”, the characterisation of the doctors and patients — just wow!

Wildthorn Jane Eagland

Much like my Eleanor, the heroine of Wildthorn, Louisa Cosgrove, craves a life off the path which has been already laid for her. Her desire to become a doctor is relentlessly and mercilessly crushed by external forces; namely her family, who does nothing but try and rid her of her unfeminine qualities, and her unfeminine dream.

Most of the book explores the consequences of a nineteenth-century woman choosing to defy the societal expectations of her sex. A vindictive plot against her stifles her dream, if only physically, for she is incarcerated in an asylum, Wildthorn Hall, for her crimes against not only her sex, but her family — an unruly woman, seeking a career reserved solely for men, would bring shame to the family.

Louisa is the kickarse heroine we need. She’s not going to go out and start beating up baddies, but her knowledge of the scientific world, for instance, makes me want to be just like her — I think contemporary women would absolutely idolise her. In fact, you could say, she’s just like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: independent, intelligent, and is possessed by a desire to harness the dark arts. Well, not quite, but in the Victorian period, a woman’s fascination with such unrefined or masculine things, was just as sinful.

Eagland never stopped surprising me. I’d think I had something figured out, but then I’d be blown away with revelation after revelation.

For instance, Louisa was committed under the name Lucy Childs. Of course, I started off believing it to be some conspiracy. It’s absolutely something that could have happened in nineteenth-century England. Women were committed for all manner of absurd reasons, and it wasn’t difficult to make a woman seem crazy — a woman wanting to be anything other than what was expected of her, is enough for her to be deemed mad — so, I believed her to be honest about her identity, but then I was soon convinced that perhaps her incarceration really was done for her benefit. Perhaps whoever was responsible did really care for her well-being. Of course, I quickly dismissed that idea too, for surely they would have at least considered the rest cure to such a horrible alternative. Yet, the asylum is the ideal place to silence a person — a woman.

Once you delve deeper, you start to doubt yourself, and you start to fear that you would have been committed, had you lived in Victorian England.

This should be enough to scare you from ever attempting time travel.

Reasons for admission

Solving the puzzle of who was responsible for Louisa’s imprisonment had me devouring page after page. It was impossible to put this book down, save for sleep. And, I never stopped hoping for her to make it out of there alive. I wanted her to make it out, she had to. I wasn’t going to accept otherwise. Of course, I won’t divulge whether she did or not. You’ll have to find out yourself 😉

My only qualm is with the ending. It wasn’t satisfying for me, but as you know, I’m very particular about endings!

There are a lot of similarities between Wildthorn and Eleanor, which I am happy to see. I think Wildthorn will make a fantastic addition to my comps list for when I submit to agents and publishers.

Be sure to get yourself a copy, and tell your friends. Wildthorn is a must read!

I rate this book a Wuthering Heights.

The scale:
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
4. The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
3. The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James

Read more about the scale here

Anyway…
I didn’t actually mean for this post to turn into a review like that, I just had a lot to say about the book. I probably have a lot more to say, but maybe I’ll save that until later.

What was I actually going to talk about? I can’t remember. You know what, fine. This can be a review post, haha!

Born of hallowed love – a work in progress

Born of hallowed love.
Tainted and fated
by prophecy;
a higher purpose she wished
to be unburdened by.

Cursed blood.
The key to salvation,
in death only.

Cursed with age.
The envy of her immortal brethren.

Unwilling to continue a sacrifice,
to fight
to die
for another’s cause
and never her own.

She leads her own crusade
in search of herself

In misery feigned
her devotion to her line
and yet accepted
for there was no other way
no other purpose of her being
than to be as a vessel.

For what is one life,
her life, to the lives of man?

© 2017

So lost (part 4) – a minuscule musings series

The following is a part of a ‘minuscule musings’ series. It’s more like a work in progress for a larger piece, a short story. I aim to add to it each week, and hopefully something fluid will come of it!

Read part one
Read part two
Read part three


Betrothed to what was stolen from her.
And when once removed of it, removed from her was her use for me.

And yet, as my mind wandered, as I was at war with myself, I could not convince myself of anything. Caught by conviction, I forced myself to move on as if she never existed. Removed her from my memory, just as the spell she had over me.

And not from me, she’ll ever again feel.

© 2016

So lost (part 3) – a minuscule musings series

The following is a part of a ‘minuscule musings’ series. It’s more like a work in progress for a larger piece, a short story. I aim to add to it each week, and hopefully something fluid will come of it!

Read part one
Read part two
Read part four


And not for me, she’ll ever feel.

And tainted of her blood, like a spell, I have forgotten love. I forbade myself her, from loving her. Forever as a spectre within my mind. My love for her never returned. But never forgotten, the horror of her losing herself. Her happiness, herself, she was robbed of those things when she chose to live life in mourning.

© 2016

So lost (part 2) – a minuscule musings series

The following is a part of a ‘minuscule musings’ series. It’s more like a work in progress for a larger piece, a short story. I aim to add to it each week, and hopefully something fluid will come of it!

Read part one
Read part three
Read part four


Crestfallen, she falls and I do nothing. She has driven herself to this. There is nothing I can do. And though I love her, I cannot.

I have seen the monster within, the one incapable, unwilling, to surrender to happiness and love. And though my hands are washed of her blood, the torrents stain.

Stains which last, scoring the flesh. Never to be free of her.

© 2016