The Asylum | Karen Coles


Dark, gothic and very gripping!

It is 1906 and Maud Lovell has been trapped at Angelton Lunatic Asylum for five long years.

An amnesiac, she cannot remember why she was brought here, nor many details of her life after the tragic untimely death of her parents and brothers.

She does not consider herself mad in any way, but her efforts – sometimes violent – to break free or convince the authorities of her sanity, have led to her being labelled dangerous and untrustworthy. As a consequence she is very rarely allowed out of the confines of her room.

The arrival of Dr Dimmond (whom Maud calls Dr Diamond) offers hope.

He firmly believes that if Maud confronts the traumas of her past, then she will finally have a future to look forward to.

He begins a series of hypnosis sessions which takes Maud back to the beginning of her troubles. That was when her brothers died and she was left alone with no home and no means of support.

Gradually, a tragic story of loss and betrayal unfolds as we follow Maud in her memories to the Banville household where she found refuge – but no safety! Just what happened there to drive her to the brink and deliver her to the Asylum?

What a fantastic atmosphere this book has! The Lunatic Asylum is a sinister place in itself, all shadowy rooms and flitting figures of tragic women in various states of dementia. But the Banville home, which Maud must revisit in her hypnotic state, is even more menacing, with its gloomy butler, slovenly cook, and demanding mistress all determined to make Maud’s life a misery.

Maud is a keenly-observed character. She is immediately appealing in her pitiful state, locked in the asylum, constantly hearing bells toll, music playing and footsteps running.

Are they real? Is Maud truly insane?

We’re kept constantly guessing, but our sympathies lie firmly with her as we witness her treatment by the people who are supposed to care for her.

Dr Dimmond holds out hope – but only if Maud can find the courage to grasp it.

Even then, she must face the continued assault of her daily predicament in the Asylum, which seems determined never to let her go.

With its haunting atmosphere and themes of mental illness, love, loss and grief – and ultimately revenge – this is a fabulous story to be read in one sitting.

The Asylum by Karen Coles is published by Wellbeck in paperback, RRP £8.99

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The Asylum is just one of the books reviewed in this month’s Special, on sale April 15.