Publication Date: February 2016
Format: Hardcover, 352 pgs
"There are three ways out of here. You can die... You can escape... Or you can convince them you're sane enough to leave." - Pg 135
Let me start off by saying this novel is nothing I had expected, in terms of the premise and the ending. It is a tale about madness and sanity, of obsession and unlikely love.
Set in 1911 within an asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, this story comprises of three characters and their experiences in the asylum. The first character is Ella Fay, a young woman who finds herself as an inmate after breaking a window in the mill where she worked. The others thought she is distressed but truth be told she wished for an open window so she could look at the sky. Her reckless act leads her to Sharston Asylum and she decides that if she keeps a low profile and works hard she might have a chance of an early release.
Dr Charles Fuller was the one who had assessed Ella upon her arrival. He is one of the three characters whose story is told and I have to say among the three his character is the one which left me most appalled. It is by no means his intention to work at Sharston Asylum in the first place; his father has expectations of him yet it is music which he loves and one which has gotten him a job at Sharston's. Though his position is First Assistant Medical Officer, his other role is to head a musical band to perform for the patients for their dance every Friday. Not all could attend the dance though, and Charles thought the dances might help with their conditions, since he has noticed a slight change in John Mulligan as he has shown some feelings with a particular music he'd played. However, his obsession for recognition and preparing a paper for the Eugenics Society would soon send him over the edge.
John Mulligan, the other character in this story, is a quiet man who had lost his wife and their child. Knowing Ella has changed his perspective in life and it is only through the dances that they are able to meet. They began exchanging letters; it is a lovely gesture of some sort as John would tell Ella what he sees while working outside since Ella and the other women inmates are confined inside the building, doing laundries basically. Ella wouldn't know how to read and write, but she has her good friend, Clem, to help her. Clem has an unhappy past and although her story is a short one, it still left a deep impression in my mind. Till now, I was quite bothered by the route she had chosen to escape from an unwanted marriage.
As the story progresses, we would learn more about these three characters' inner thoughts and what drives them towards a destiny none of them has predicted. At its core this is both a love story and a character-driven kind of story that allows us to think about the past and future life of these characters and that there is a fine line between sanity and madness. Overall, I felt the story to be beautifully written and that this book would make a good book club discussion.