Set in England at the end of the 19th century, The Asylum by John Harwood begins with a young woman calling herself Georgina Ferarrs waking up in an unfamiliar room in the voluntary ward at a psychiatric institution. She has no memory of how she came to be there, and is startled when the doctor at the asylum, Maynard Starker, tells her that she checked herself in the day before under the name of Lucy Ashton.
Even though her clothes and traveling trunks are all marked with the initials "L. A.", the young woman insists her name is Georgina Ferarrs, and begs the staff to send a telegram to her uncle in London. She is shocked when the man she believes to be her uncle sends a return telegraph stating that Georgina Ferrars is in London with him, and that the woman in the asylum is an imposter. Once our heroine overcomes the initial shock, she becomes determined to discover the truth of her identity, and what happened during the two weeks that elapsed between the time of her last clear memory and her first morning in the asylum.
The Asylum is divided into three parts. The first part is split between the present and Georgina's/Lucy's memories of a childhood spent in a cottage by the sea. The second part of the story is told through letter and journal format, and takes the reader even further back in time. The last part returns to the present, where the reader finally gets the answers to who the young lady in the asylum is, and how she came to be there.
This Victorian Gothic novel kept me guessing throughout the course of the story. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, the narrator would add another little detail that made me question my previous assumptions. I couldn't read the first three quarters of the book fast enough. The one drawback to the book is the ending, which is a little over-the-top and cliché. There is a monologue by a surprise antagonist at the end, that contains everything except "...and I would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!" Scooby-Doo villain aside, The Asylum is an engaging and entertaining read for fans of the mystery and/or gothic genres.
Jennifer P @ Central