Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: March 1998
Source: Personal Library
Set in Britain during the 1950s, this is a story narrated by Dr Peter Cleave, a psychiatrist over an incident which happened to the Raphaels during his work at a countryside mental institution. Stella Raphael, who is the lead character of this story, is supposed to have a happy family. After all, she and her husband has a ten-year-old son and her husband has the hope of becoming the next superintendent at the mental institution. However, she has done the unthinkable and has an affair with Edgar Stark, who is a patient of Dr Cleave.
Not only that Edgar is mentally disturbed, but he also shows no remorse after he gruesomely murdered his wife and think what he did is justifiable. The reason he murdered his wife is because he thinks his wife had a lover and even a small and mundane gesture would ignite his anger. In other words, he simply has this disillusion that his wife is betraying him.
Not deterred by his past, Stella sees him as charming and a talented artist who shows passion in his sculpture. Their relationship started when Edgar, among many parole patients, is asked to restore an old conservatory which is ruined when they moved into the house. They were living in London before then.
The story then escalates to the point where Stella decides to ditch her family and follows Edgar after he managed to make an escape from the institution. But soon that attraction slowly fades and Edgar began to show his dark side when he starts to get violent with her. What happened then, I shall leave it to you to read it yourself but I would say this is one of the best books I read since the beginning of 2012. Aside from the characterisations, the setting and the plot, what I liked is it is written in a narrative style and from an observer's point of view. Dr Cleave's POV is refreshing in a way that you may view it as a medical case study as well as reading what he had experienced throughout the ordeal.
What I felt while reading this book could be described as a roller coaster experience. There are times I felt intense after reading what Edgar had done with his ex-wife; the things he had done to her are unbelievable and gruesome. Then, there are also times when I felt angry at Stella. I was angry that she failed to recognise the danger she would be in and at some points even gave excuses when Edgar behaves irrationally. After all, how reliable Edgar can be? And what about her family, especially her young son? She did give readers the impression that she is bored with her life; after all Max barely showers her with love and attention, but still . . . to get involved with a mentally disturbed patient is simply appalling.
That said, Asylum is a great literary fiction that had my attention from the first page right till the end. I understand that there is a movie (starring Natasha Richardson, Hugh Bonneville and Ian McKellen) based on this novel which was released in 2005 so I might check that out too.