Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.”
Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary. Who is the woman in her uncle’s house? And what has become of her two most precious possessions, a dragonfly pin left to her by her mother and a writing case containing her journal, the only record of those missing weeks? Georgina’s perilous quest to free herself takes us from a cliffside cottage on the Isle of Wight to the secret passages of Tregannon House and into a web of hidden family ties on which her survival depends.
Another delicious read from the author praised by Ruth Rendell as having “a gift for creating suspense, apparently effortlessly, as if it belongs in the nature of fiction.”
The phrase "you can't put this book down!!" is completely overused, in my opinion. It is just used to draw up enthusiasm for a book and rarely is actually true. In my case, however, I remember getting about a hundred pages from the end, realizing it was four in the morning, and carrying on anyway. I was completely hooked.
The Asylum is a tried and true gothic novel, with creepy old houses, the threat of madness, some homoerotic tension and seemingly impossible obstacles. I ate it up. It reminded me a bit of Collin's The Woman in White which is a great compliment to Harwood. He creates a great sense of unease with Miss Ferrars narrative, to the point where the reader doesn't know if she should trust the narrator or not.
A change of literary styles happens about midway through the book, when it changes over from a narrative to epistolary at just the right moment. I remember turning the page to see the heading and going "ooooooo!" in excitement. I honestly haven't gotten this excited about a book in a long time.
The plot, even when you think you know where it's going, twists and turns so that even if you see one plot twist coming, you aren't expecting a certain detail that changes it all. Everything is well plotted and makes sense once details are revealed. I might have even gasped at one point.
I honestly could not put The Asylum down and if you're at all interested in gothic novels, you will eat this one up, too.