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.

GailRoger's rating:
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