Review: The Asylum

The Asylum

The Asylum
By John Harwood
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780544003477, May 2013, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

An asylum, a young woman who has supposedly gone mad, the English setting…and yet I struggled with it.

The Rest of It:

Georgina Ferrars wakes up in an asylum. She can’t remember how she got there or why, but she is quickly told that she admitted herself under the name of Lucy Ashton. When she questions this, her uncle back home is notified and he confirms that the REAL Georgina Ferrars is in fact, with him, and that there must be some mistake.

As you can imagine, the mistaken identity piece of this story is what’s most puzzling. Why is she in this asylum? What is going on back home? Is someone doing this to her on purpose? These are the questions that kept going through my mind. I’ve never been one to turn down a book that had anything to do with an asylum. The setting fascinates me as done anything pertaining to psychology or mental illness so this book felt like a good fit for me. Especially, the first half.

But then something strange happened. The story started going back and forth with flashbacks and the like and somewhere along the way, the author lost me. I mean, I was totally and utterly lost! I backtracked and reread entire chapters and could not figure out what was going on. It was so bad at one point, that I checked page numbers to see if my copy had a chunk torn out. Nope. The pages were intact and then out of nowhere, I was suddenly reading a lesbian love scene. Not a bad scene, quite well-written actually, but how did it fit into the story? I haven’t a clue!

This is one of those situations where I either totally spaced out, or I missed a critical line somewhere but the entire second half was a mystery to me. Even the ending. I haven’t a clue what transpired. I feel silly for admitting this but I have to be honest. I got really frustrated trying to figure it out and decided that if I just continued to read, it would all fall into place. No, it did not.

I have to say though, that first half was quite compelling. Harwood’s handling of the setting is what made that first half a page-turner for me. I just wish the second half had been as compelling. I read a lot of heavy stuff and can usually follow along without any problems but clearly, I missed something here.

Anyone want to clue me in? If so, email me.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

20 thoughts on “Review: The Asylum”

    1. I’m still not entirely sure that there WASN’T a page missing somewhere. I checked the reviews on Goodreads and it’s a mixed bag. Some say exactly what I say and others raved.


  1. I read a different John Harwood book (The Seance, maybe?), and had similar feelings. Like I was missing something, so I think it might not just be you? It could be his style. I haven’t read anything else by home, and now I am hesitant. Ambiguity I don’t mind, but cluelessness is no fun.

  2. Nop, not for me, I guess, Though I wonder what time period the book is set in. The cover looks very 1800s or early 1900s. Is the book set in that timeframe?

    1. I started on audio too. I believe it was the same reader as the gal who did Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I am not 100% certain but her voice had the same, clinical quality that the reader in that book had and it was hard to listen to.


  3. This review made me laugh because I was wondering how this book was but what you described would have driven me crazy and I could see myself reacting te same way!!

  4. I listened on audio and didn’t struggle, but I can see where people might with the back and forth and no real delineation.

    Don’t remember the narrator’s voice….at all…oops.

    1. I wanted to really like it, but it just was too all over the place for me to embrace it. I hate when that happens. Hey, how have you been?


      1. LOL, maybe it’s all over-ness was what made it easier to understand for me because that has been my life lately:) I’m okay, thanks so much for asking.

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