To Read Is to Fly

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” 
― Alberto Manguel


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The Asylum - John Harwood I won an ARC of [b:The Asylum|15814529|The Asylum|John Harwood||21540965] from a GR First Reads giveaway, and it came at a great time for me -- the end of the semester, when I needed some light escapist reading. It may sound odd to call [b:The Asylum|15814529|The Asylum|John Harwood||21540965] light reading, given its synopsis: Georgina Ferrars wakes to find herself in Tregannon House, a private asylum in Cornwall. She meets Dr. Maynard Straker, who informs her that she arrived at the asylum having identified herself as Lucy Ashton. She then suffered a seizure with left her with impaired short-term memory--she could remember her name, her childhood, her mother, her aunt, her uncle in London, but she could not remember the last few weeks, arriving at the asylum, or even the clothes or bags she found in her room. Throughout the first section of the novel, Georgina tries frantically to establish her identity, in the face of skepticism from Dr. Straker, from Frederic Mordaunt, the young melancholic whose uncle owned Tregannon House, and from asylum staff. Even her uncle sends a telegram saying that Georgina Ferrars is in residence in his house in London, and that the patient in the asylum must be an imposter.

Harwood has written other books inspired by Victorian novels. [b:The Asylum|15814529|The Asylum|John Harwood||21540965] features staples of the genre: women in peril, mistaken identities, complex and hidden relationships among characters, and the roots of present-day conflicts stemming from past tragedies. Ferrars emerges as an overly trusting, but strong and intelligent woman who, in the end, relies on her wits to seek a way out of her confinement. Harwood's pacing moves the narrative along, and his inclusion of a second section consisting of old letters and more recent journal entries provides an effective means to answer questions about the relationship of the distant and recent past to Georgina's present predicament.

However, the last section becomes quite unbelievable, even by the standards of these novels, which themselves are built on complex genealogies, incredible coincidences, and hidden motives. There is a sense of Harwood's rushing to find resolution for the novel which is jarring after the way he built dramatic tension in the first two sections of the novel. The villain who ultimately emerges comes across as a two-dimensional stock figure. 3.5 stars for the first two sections, 2 for the last section, leading me to a final (somewhat generous) 3 star rating.

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