Book - 1997
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Patrick McGrath has created his most psychologically penetrating vision to date: a nightmare world rocked to its foundations by a passion of such force and intensity that it shatters the lives--and minds--of all who are touched by it. Stella Raphael, a woman of great beauty and formidable intelligence, is married to Max, a staid and unimaginative forensic psychiatrist. Max has taken a job in a huge top-security mental hospital in rural England, and Stella, far from London society, finds herself restless and bored. Into her lonely existence comes Edgar Stark, a brilliant sculptor confined to the hospital after killing his wife in a psychotic rage. He comes to Stella's garden to rebuild an old Victorian conservatory there, and Stella cannot ignore her overwhelming physical attraction to this desperate man. Their explosive affair pits them against Stella's husband, her child, and the entire institution. When the crisis comes to a head, Stella makes a decision--one that will destroy several lives and precipitate an appalling tragedy that could only be fueled by illicit sexual love. Asylum is a terrifying exploration of the extremes to which erotic obsession can drive us. Patrick McGrath brings his own dazzling blend of cool artistry and visceral engagement to this mesmerizing story of a fatal love and its unspeakably tragic aftermath. And in Stella Raphael, a woman who tears down the walls of her constricted existence to pursue a dangerous passion, he has created a character who will long be remembered for her willingness to take the ultimate risk, even if she must pay the ultimate price.
Publisher: New York : Random House, 1997.
ISBN: 9780679452287
Branch Call Number: MCGR
Characteristics: 254p. 24cm.


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May 28, 2012

In this story, the husband is a psychiatrist. His wife fallis in love with a patient and runs away with him, but is eventually overcome by unhappiness and guilt. It is too "psychy", but nevertheless suspenseful and a good story.

Dec 05, 2009

I can't believe I'm dragging an episode of Friends into this, but the narrative device of using the omniscient voice of the psychiatrist reminded me of Roger the shrink who briefly dated Phoebe, you remember, the one who had everyone's psychological number and soon they couldn't stand him? Our narrator was similarly irritating. I began to wonder if I was getting the real story, which is an odd feeling to have during a novel. Granted, Stella's viewpoint would be somewhat delusional, but Peter Cleave's all-knowing, rather arrogant take on the matter began to grate after a while.

When I was twenty or so, I read a short story by Doris Lessing entitled "To Room Nineteen". I've never been able to read it again. Not because it was poorly written, it wasn't, by a long shot, but because the view into a soul devastated by depression and despair was too much to take (and maybe a little too close for comfort).

There was a point during my reading of Asylum when I was overwhelmed by that exact same feeling; it's the prelude, description, and aftermath of the most tragic event in the whole novel, and do you know what makes it all the more tragic? It's swept aside by the obsession that is the focus of the plot. The most innocent victim of all those mistakes is clearly only a footnote.

I've noticed more than once that reviewers of Asylum refer to the similarity between love and insanity. This is because what we've been led to believe is love, from romance films to pop songs, is sexual love which is only a tiny aspect of love; it is not love itself. The Scottish duo The Proclaimers have it right: "Romantic love rots the brain, no doubt about it --- you're out of your mind!" Stella doesn't love Edgar any more than he loves her. She is obsessed with him, and eventually her own dissatisfaction with her life leads her into the disastrous affair which destroys more lives than her own. The question is not: "Is love like insanity?"; it's "How mentally ill was this woman to begin with, that this was able to go so far and so over the edge?"

Verdict: As with "To Room Nineteen", I won't be reading this one again.


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