The Asylum by John Harwood

John Harwood
The Asylum

Ooooh, I couldn’t leave this book alone!! It is so gripping, and the quite sneaky trick of the author’s of not really having chapters thereby ensures there is no convenient place to leave off reading and put the book down! Just the synopsis sounds delicious - a woman wakes up at a lunatic asylum in 1882 and can't recall anything about the last six weeks of her life, she then remembers she is Georgina Ferrars but someone else of that name and who is stated by her uncle and the servants to be Georgina is living at her address! However, I do have to say the ending was a little disappointing and not quite as exciting as the rest of the book.

The Asylum by John Harwood available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

Ooooh, I couldn’t leave this book alone!! It is so gripping, and the quite sneaky trick of the author’s of not really having chapters thereby ensures there is no convenient place to leave off reading and put the book down! Just the synopsis sounds delicious – a woman wakes up at a lunatic asylum in 1882 and can’t recall anything about the last six weeks of her life, she then remembers she is Georgina Ferrars but someone else of that name and who is stated by her uncle and the servants to be Georgina is living at her address! However, I do have to say the ending was a little disappointing and not quite as exciting as the rest of the book.

Georgina’s early life was living with her mother, Emily Ferrars, and Aunt Vida on the Isle of Wight. Her father, Godfrey, died when she was young. When her mother and aunt died, she went to live with her Uncle Josiah in London. 

The asylum is in the grounds of a stately home owned by the Mordaunt family. The doctor in charge of the asylum is Dr Straker, who doesn’t believe Georgina’s claim of being Georgina. Georgina begins to suspect Dr Straker has placed her there as a kind of experiment, to watch her lose her mind as she slowly disbelieves her own identity. 

Georgina then finds her journal, with some letters her mother had received from her cousin Rosina detailing her restricted life with her stern controlling father and her planned escape with Felix Mordaunt (oooh, a connection with the stately home owners of the asylum!). The journal also reveals to Georgina that she had advertised for information about Rosina, and that a Lucia Ardent came to Georgina saying she had once overheard her mother mention that name but knows nothing more. Georgina and Lucia wonder if Lucia’s mother is Rosina, and she took an assumed name after she was abandoned by Felix. 

The ending was a bit disappointing and slightly over-complicated and dramatic. Rosina was pregnant by Felix and their child was Georgina, but Felix had previously got Rosina’s sister Clarissa pregnant and their child was Lucia. On learning this, Rosina had left Felix, but Felix had altered his will in Rosina’s favour, so although Felix’s brother Edmund claimed the stately home and the asylum in its grounds and the family’s wealth as his inheritance, this all really belonged to Georgina (both from her being Rosina’s daughter, but also from her being Emily’s ‘ward’ as Rosina left her assets to her cousin Emily). Clarissa meanwhile had been blackmailing Edmund with this information for years, and he’s shared all this with Dr Straker. Clarissa and her daughter Lucia then decided to take Georgina’s identity in order to gain the inheritance. Meanwhile Georgina had learnt that she was actually Rosina’s daughter, not Emily’s, and also that Lucia was Clarissa’s daughter and so had headed to the asylum for more information from Edmund, but she was met there by Dr Straker and when she explained everything to him, he wasn’t willing to give up the asylum that Edmund lets him run so wiped Georgina’s memory using an electric device he’d made to try and cure mental illness, but which had proved fatal to two patients. But Dr Straker then needed Georgina to remember and reveal where she’d hidden her journal which contained the full details of her history and the will stating the inheritance, in order to destroy these. When Lucia turns up at the asylum also hoping to get the journal and will, Dr Straker tries to kill her to stop the blackmail and then intended to wipe Georgina’s memory again and have her live as Lucy Ashton, but was stopped. 

This book obviously has themes of Woman in White and Fingersmith, with a woman being concealed under a false identity in a lunatic asylum. It does bring up horrifying images of how that did used to happen and how cruel the treatment could be then, and also how powerless women were at that time with their husbands and fathers being able to shut them away, and the awful thought of being imprisoned like that for life with no trial or chance of justice or escape.

The Asylum by John Harwood available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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