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Asylum Paperback – 28 Aug 1997

42 customer reviews

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Asylum + Girl, Interrupted + One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (28 Aug. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140258221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140258226
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Patrick McGrath is the author of THE GROTESQUE, SPIDER, DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE and BLOOD AND WATER AND OTHER TALES all of which have attracted widespread critical acclaim. He lives in New York.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
The catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years now. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 July 2003
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most engaging and gripping reads I have ever come across. McGrath has an incredible skill of drawing the reader into a false sense of security before cruelly creating the some of the darkest and most depressing scenes in modern literature. Stella is a woman trapped in a loveless marriage with a longing for passion. She finds it in Edgar, an articulate and seemingly sane prisoner of an Asylum. The book is woven in an unsentimental and stark, often harsh format by a psychiatrist. This clever viewpoint allows the book to maintain a raw and very real feel throughout. The disturbing nature of the book and its haunting characters played on my mind for many months afterwards. I would recommend it to anyone who simply has a love of words and love stories in their original, tragic structures...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on 6 Jan. 2009
Format: Paperback
Asylum by Patrick McGrath

Asylum by Patrick McGrath is an intense study of self-obsession and self-interest. Narrated by and experienced from the point of view of Peter Cleave, a psychiatrist, we follow the development of a relationship between Stella Raphael and Edgar. Stella is married to Max, who is a clinical colleague of Peter's in a mental hospital for the criminally insane where Edgar is a patient. Unlike Peter, Max finds his career, his marriage and his life somewhat stalled. Stella finds Max, her professionally challenged husband, something of a bore. She sees herself destined for something altogether more exciting, perhaps exclusive, than her husband can provide or inspire. A son, Charlie, seems to make his life in the gaps of his patents' relationship. When Edgar, a patient committed to the penal psychiatric hospital in whose grounds the Raphael's reside, responds to Stella's playful dreams, events pull both of them inexorably towards destruction. The fact that Edgar's crime was both horrifically violent and perpetrated against his then partner adds both tension and intrigue to the plot.

The relationship between Stella and Edgar develops initially via innuendo, but is soon explicitly recognised by both of them. On the face of things, Edgar is not manipulating her, but he would not be Edgar if he did not both see and take his chance. With Stella's help, unwitting or otherwise, Edgar escapes. She meets up with him in London, encounters that are facilitated by a shadowy character called Nick. Stella is captivated by Edgar's artistic talent. He is a sculptor, but he has a tendency and a history of destroying the objects he creates, especially those that he apparently holds the dearest. But Stella is attracted to him, becomes obsessed with him, moves in with him.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Other Stories on 22 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
Max Raphael is the new Deputy Superintendent at a provincial asylum outside London. Stella, his beautiful, gregarious, intelligent wife is suffocating in her marriage. She embarks on a intense and dangerous affair with patient Edgar Stark, who is incarcerated for murdering his wife and then mutilating her corpse.

The initiation, the duration, and the fall-out of the affair is all narrated in the cool, clinical tones of Max's colleague at the asylum, Peter Cleave. However, from the very beginning there is a sense that Cleave might not be the most reliable of narrators. He certainly shows a very keen interest in both Edgar and Stella, in different ways, and seems to be omniscient in their lives, if not in reality, then certainly within his own imaginings.

But what is reality, and what are imaginings? The beauty of McGrath's writing is the ability to produces images of abject horror in plain, unfussy language. Indeed, some images become all the more horrible simply because the reader can easily imagine the measured tones of Cleave as he tells us in detail of the psychiatric breakdown of the people involved. The voice of Cleave is sane, but is the character?

This is a book of light and dark. Of summer and winter. Night and day. There are shadows and ghosts and monsters, all of them lurking in the most respectable of people. Asylum is all of those review cliches: compelling, unputdownable, relentless. But, I mean it, it really is.

And the last line. *shudder*
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
Haunting, compellingly written, Asylum tells the story of Stella Raphael, the beautiful, impressionable young wife of Max, a forensic psychiatrist at a well-respected psychiatric institution outside of London. Unlike some fictional "unhappy wives", Stella is not a foolish heroine; in fact she is intelligent, perceptive, and quite well-versed in her husband's metier, a fact which will serve her well later in the story.
Compelled by a powerful mix of physical attraction, unfulfilled ambitions, and fascination with the world outside her marriage, she embarks on a dangerous affair with a mental patient, Edgar Stark. It is a tribute to McGrath's art that you never question for one moment how it happens or why, to our horror, she continues it, despite the dreadful consequences. In fact, you find yourself almost understanding her compulsion, wondering whether you would be able to do any better than she does in the end.
But the real villian in the story may not be the frightening Edgar, nor Stella, but the narrator himself. Ostensibly a dispassionate observer - a fellow psychiatrist in the Raphaels' circle - you find yourself wondering, as the story unfolds, what is the real truth about what happened to Stella? Who is deceiving whom? And finally, who and what has finally been manipulated?
Asylum has been described as a Gothic novel. I disagree. Gothic novels are filled with spooky references to ancient horrors that may or may not be real. Asylum, on the other hand, is all too real. The fact that there are no sleights-of-hand in it; the reluctant understanding that Stella's situation, although it may be extreme, is all too possible, is what makes this novel the beautiful and disturbing piece of literature that it is.
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