“Asylum” came recommended by a friend who couldn’t hide her absolute rapture by this book. I read the blurb – that ultimate PR weapon that is guilty of luring me into buying several scandalously awful books – and decided I had to read a story about a pathological relationship between a mental case and an unfaithful wife.
Oh, almost forgot – the review may include spoilers. If you plan to read the book and hate knowing in advance what happens, maybe you should only read this introduction and the conclusion, which will have a definite YES or NO to reading “Asylum”. 🙂
A seemingly endless summer
Stella is a beautiful, white-haired, pale-skinned, elegant and charming woman who moved to a mental institution with her son and husband, because her husband Max is a very respectable psychiatrist who was offered to manage the well-known asylum.
The novel is narrated by Peter Cleave, another experienced doctor who opens his story with a confession that he’s never seen a love affair so passionate and so destructive, that it had to ruin four lives. Speaking of spoilers…
So, Stella is bored. Her “only” obligation is to run the household and bring up her son, and though some women would find these responsibilities enough to keep them occupied throughout the day, Stella is obviously disinterested. Her relationship with Max is free of passion, but seems bearable enough, and her attitude towards Charlie is unacceptable from the very start. On one hand, there are some attempts to present Stella as a tender, caring mother, but on the other, there are episodes of Stella’s unambiguous lack of motherly instincts. Stella is only passing through her role of wife/mother in hope of some sort of rescue.
Then enters a tall, dark stranger
His name is Edgar Stark and he is Peter Cleave’s patient. At the annual patients’ ball that welcomes doctors and their wives as well, Stella finds herself dancing with him – who develops an erection in the middle of their swirling around the ballroom – and Stella finally gets the excitement she craves.
From then on it’s a tragedy unraveling and waiting for its grand finale.
Stella and Edgar start a love affair that culminates with his escape to London and Stella’s escape with him. There they live in a shabby attic where they have sex and indulge in “an artistic” lifestyle. But Edgar’s disease, paranoia and jealousy rear their ugly heads and he starts harassing Stella with his accusations and beatings (that she in some instances enjoys). So she runs away, and during her running away manages to have sex with his friend.
The second part – even more depressing
After Stella reunites with Max and Charlie, depression hits her really hard. The three of them move to an ever-raining dump in Wales where the family can’t even keep a façade of a normal functioning unit. One rainy night Stella goes with Charlie to a school field day and what happens there is the eeriest, most vivid scene in the entire book. What happens there sends Stella away, to the asylum – to Peter’s capable hands. However, the ever-reasonable psychiatrist becomes just another one in the line of men whom Stella mesmerizes and manipulates into thinking what she wants him to think. He gives her tiny hope that she might see Edgar again, but the night that hope dies, so does she (in a gown that does her beauty perfect justice).
Conclusion and a negotiable YES
At first I couldn’t decide whether it’s the author’s incompetence that made him create a character – Stella – so obviously unlikeable but whom everyone in the novel for some reason adored; or if it was the author’s skill. Now I know it’s the latter; there are really people like Stella who use their magnetic charisma, beauty, charm and social skills to manipulate people into doing what they want them to. I also loved how the author began the novel with a premise that Edgar the psychopath was the crazy one, and it turned out it was really Stella.
I know I am not doing her any justice. She really was ill; no sane person would watch their child drown, worrying only about the cigarette surviving in the wind and rain. Still, she wasn’t ill at the beginning when she let passion cloud everything, even her motherly duties.
Though the first part of the novel read a little bit like a cheap romance novel, I really liked the author’s vivid descriptions, realistic situations, how he dwells in the moment and lets us fully experience the story. I especially loved the second part, where seemingly impossible human traits are exhibited.
(photo source: http://f-l-e-u-r-d-e-l-y-s.tumblr.com/post/27661707785)