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on 1 April 2016
A young woman wakes up in a lunatic asylum. Pretty much all she can remember is that her name is Georgina Ferrars - only everyone else is convinced she's Lucy Ashton. Who is she, and why is she there, since apparently she arrived and admitted herself as a voluntary patient of her own free will?

This book is a gothic novel in the Victorian mode, complete with deceptions, an old house in a desolate location, wicked relatives (and others), mistaken identities (obviously), two elopements, at least two wills (extra points to Harwood for a legal point he makes about the validity of wills on marriage), and mysterious instructions to a solicitor.

From a 21st century perspective, it all seems a bit overblown - there are definitely simpler ways to solve problems than those adopted by the characters in this novel. However, that's not really the point. This is Victorian gothic, and if you don't have mistaken identity, mysterious origins, inconvenient wills, and a heroine in Grave Peril, you are simply not trying hard enough.

Additionally, I think the book suffered in part because a major reason for Georgina's problems is her isolation - she's on her own with her problem, trying to establish her identity and not knowing whom she can trust. But relationships between characters in a book often provide an extra dimension beyond plot and storytelling skill, and that just wasn't available here.

All in all, however, this was a solid four stars for me - and it kept me reading until I finished it in one sitting (thank goodness for e-Readers with a frontlight). Harwood keeps the suspense going, and manages to give the subtly horrifying feeling of a hall of mirrors: how is Georgina to tell the difference between reality and deception, when she doesn't know which is which, and each seems to bleed into the other?

I felt the ending happened a little too neatly and and a little too suddenly, but it was a really good ride while it lasted.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 28 September 2013
This is a great psychological suspense thriller set in late Victorian England. In 1882, a young woman presents herself at Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote area in England. She says she is Miss Lucy Ashton. At least that's what they tell her happened when the woman who thinks she is Miss Georgina Ferrars wakes up in the asylum and can't remember what she's doing there, or why they seem to think she's not Georgina. Who is Lucy Ashton and where are her own belongings? If she plays this wrong will they keep her here forever? This is a horrible nightmare scenario in which this young woman finds herself, and as she slowly and painfully is able to start piecing together what happened to her, she finds herself in even more danger than she thought possible.

This is a great book; the suspense is built up ever so slowly. For the first large part of the book we follow this panicked woman in the asylum trying to get out and reestablish what she `knows' is her life. And then we suddenly switch to another narrative, letters of some twenty years ago. Will these shed light on the situation? At first it's hard to see where the narrative is now going, but oh so delightfully, tantalisingly, the story pieces itself together to the ultimate horror of the whole situation. Brilliantly characterised, perfectly paced, a chillingly suspenseful story. Definitely recommended.
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I listened to John Harwood's The Asylum as an audiobook, on my iPod. When I listen to audiobooks I tend to choose children's books, crime fiction, books I've read before, or historical fiction, and The Asylum is a Victorian-set tale of mystery and suspense.

The story opens with Georgina Ferrars, a young middle-class woman, awaking in an unfamiliar room with no idea how she arrived there. It soon becomes clear that she has been admitted - albeit voluntarily - to Tregannon, a renowned mental asylum. She has no money, she doesn't recognise any of her belongings or clothes, and most disturbingly of all, everyone is insistent that her name is not Georgina Ferrars, but Lucy Ashton.

What follows is very much in the style of a classic Victorian gothic mystery - think Wilkie Collins or Sheridan Le Fanu. There are wronged women, oppressive father figures, melancholic young men, femmes fatales, mistaken identities, secret letters, hidden diaries and disputes over wills: everything you'd expect from such a narrative, almost to the point where it becomes pastiche. But there's also a distinctly contemporary perspective to elements of the story, which, while it never seems truly anachronistic, does add an extra layer of interest.

Where I feel The Asylum lets itself down is with characterisation - very few of the characters really seem much more than archetypes to me - and with its ending. The plot is packed with intrigue and the different threads of the mystery are cleverly woven together, but the ending, for all its melodrama, simply left me feeling flat.

However, Georgina's (or is it Lucy's?) plight is a nightmarish one and I'd defy anyone to start reading The Asylum and not want to know how, and if, her situation is resolved. Despite the ending, the mystery is very cleverly constructed and if you're a fan of gothic Victoriana this is an engaging read.
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on 27 May 2013
This is wonderful: an utterly readable, utterly compelling gothic mystery, set in Victorian England.

It begins with a young woman waking in a strange bed, in a strange room. The smell and texture of her blanket was wrong, the coarse flannel nightgown she was wearing was not her own, and when she opened her eyes and saw a grille covering the small window, roughly painted walls, a heavy oak door with a small aperture she knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

And she had no memory at all of how she had got there.

She was told that she was an inmate in a Tregannon House, an asylum set in the wild Cornish Countryside of Bodmin Moor. She was told that she had presented herself as a voluntary patient the previous evening, giving the name Lucy Ashton.

She knew that she was Georgina Ferrars, but the luggage she had brought, the clothes and jewellery they held, were not her own, and she still had no memory of what had happened, no explanation at all.

She put her faith in a telegram to her uncle, her only living relation to prove who she was, but a reply came back saying that Georgina was safe and well at home .....

Georgina's perceptions, and her growing horror and bewilderment, are portrayed absolutely perfectly. I was hooked!

I call her Georgina because she was sure that she was Georgina, and because I liked her and I wanted to believe her. It was quite possible that she was unreliable, or deluded, but I was inclined to think not.

She tried to find answers, to find a way out of the asylum, but she was frustrated at every turn.

But she discovered a journal and a cache of letters hidden in the lining of her trunk. The narrative began to shift, moving between Georgina's story in the present, her journal that gave her some of the explanations she had been seeking about her recent past, and the letters that had been written to her mother years earlier, where she saw familiar names, and began to see answers and to ask new questions.

All three strands of the story are intriguing and compelling, and John Harwood spun a wonderful gothic tale of family secrets, questions of identity and sanity around them. The atmosphere was wonderful, they were some lovely touches, and there was a marvellous twist, that had me asking new questions and reforming my theories, three-quarters of the way through the book.

There were moments when I was reminded of Sarah Waters, there were moments when I was reminded of Wilkie Collins, but there were far more moments when I was completely caught up with Georgina's story and situation.

The possibility that she was deluded, that the Georgina she said was an imposter was the real Georgina, but she was so engaging, so believable, so realistic in her approach to her situation, that I really wanted to believe her and I really wanted her to find her way out of the asylum.

I give great credit to John Harwood for making Tregannon House an enlightened institution, and not creating easy drama from cruel practices. My only, very small disappointments, were with the letters that read like a narrative with breaks rather than real letters, and with a highly improbable clause in a will that was used to delay a particular revelation.

The ending was a little over-dramatic, and not quite as tightly plotted as the rest of the book. I had the feeling that the author had worked out the history but hadn't worked out how to resolve Georgina's situation, and so he forced things rather. But he did tie up all of the loose ends, and I was pleased that it didn't tie them up too tightly. The future held possibilities, but not certainties.

So The Asylum isn't quite perfect but it's still a lovely piece of Gothic Victoriana; there's enough to hold lovers of this kind of book, and it's also accessible enough to those who less familiar with the genre.

And it's more than good enough for me to want to go back and read John Harwood's two earlier novels.
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on 24 August 2016
With the essentials and a perfect overall Gothic atmosphere that mirrors some of the classics of the genre: Lady Audley's Secret, The Woman in White and even a nod to Rebecca, The Asylum is a tale that may find its way to the top of many Gothic Victorian admirers' reading lists. The novel provides superb description and story building that may have the reader finishing this novel in one sitting. Mr. Harwood has captured the Victorian timeline complete with research of many elements such as believable dialogue, enlightenment on the psychological and psychosomatic beliefs and practices of the time period and created an intriguing tale all swirling around the obscurity and oddly this still ended in disappoint for this reviewer. The novel starts with classic mystery narration but then ends with a rapid procession of unbelievable coincidences that may be justified with the saying "stranger things have happened". True, stranger things have happened but The Asylum is a novel that crosses into the saying "stranger tales have been told".

With all the positives there are negatives that must be shared with the potential reader. Unfortunately, the latter parts of the novel did not match the first and the tension sagged with the introduction of the "twists" in the second part. The utmost potential of the setting seemed to be not fully utilized and became lost with the progression of the story. The anticipation of confronting darker themes were introduced and used briefly but then were overshadowed by a string of confusing out of place scenes. True, the ending does end with the unexpected but the ending also concludes with more questions than answers. The last regrettable observation is the modern belief that updated novels that so carefully try to pay homage to the classics must include a shocking scene or a parade of scandalous scenes and The Asylum plays with those notions (and depending on the reader may enjoy). With the positives barely overbalancing the awkward negatives, I'm sorry to say The Asylum is a tossup to be a must-read or be placed on a list to wait to borrow at the local Library.
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on 11 June 2016
Georgina Ferrars wakes up in an asylum called Tregannon House not knowing how she got there. Nobody seems to want to believe her when she says she is Georgina and not Lucy Ashton as checked herself in voluntary as.

This is the sort of book that I should have loved, based in a victorian asylum and full of gothic mystery. The book is told through narratives, letters and journal entries. At first the book starts of quite well and the storyline is there and promises to be intriguing.

So what went wrong. Well the story went silly and unbelievable and at times I was quite lost. I felt at times that I had actually missed out pages and had missed a vital clue or revelation. I had to backtrack to see if I had missed something and where I had gone wrong. By the end I had had enough and was totally confused.

I think that after enduring this very confusing book I feel like I need a spell as a voluntary patient in the asylum myself to recover.

I can't recommend this book at all unfortunately.
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A young woman wakes in a strange bed, there is a grill on the window and the door is locked. So begins the story of Georgina Ferrars' - or does it? For when Dr Maynard Straker, the superintendent and chief medical officer of Tregannon House, arrives, he refers to her as Miss Ashton. Gradually, our narrator pieces together her story; how she had arrived the day before in a distracted state, and was taken in after becoming ill. "Am I in a madhouse?" she asks, disbelieving. The answer is 'yes', she is in an asylum and it looks as though leaving is not an option. For, although she claims she is Miss Ferrars and lives in London with her uncle, when Dr Straker investigates he discovers that Georgina Ferrars is safe and well and that his patient, therefore, must be an imposter....

This is a wonderfully atmospheric and well written story. Tregannon House is well realised, with the progressive Dr Straker and kindly young Frederick Mordaunt, for whom the asylum is his family home. The reader is not sure, for much of the novel, whether the narrator can be trusted or not and I certainly do not wish to reveal the twists and turns of the plot. However, things eventually become clearer with our narrator's discovery of a missing cache of letters, which reveal long hidden family secrets.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and well written novel. The main narrator is extremely intelligent and resourceful, but does not act out of character for the time period when this book is set. Indeed, the author has pitched the historical details wonderfully well and you feel just how creepy our heroine's predicament is. As she doubts her own story and her memories, we are taken on her voyage of discovery. A very enjoyable book and I recommend it highly.
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on 22 October 2013
If you like gothic stories, then this third novel by John Harwood is sure to please. Set in the Victorian era, it opens with a young woman named Georgina Ferrars who wakes up in an insane asylum. She is confused, for her memory has faded. She has no memory of how she arrived there and the asylum doctor and nurses tell her that gave her name as Lucy Ashton. But she knows this is false - she is truly Georgina, but the more she tries to convince the doctor of her true identity, the less they believe her and the more she finds herself trapped in the asylum. What ensues is a gripping mystery about stolen identities, greed, betrayal, and murder. A real page-turner! I do not wish to reveal any more information to avoid any spoilers. The author takes the reader on a journey through time, revealing mere tidbits of information as the truth is slowly revealed. Although the ending is highly satisfying, I did find the final scenes pertaining to the electronic device a little hard to believe.

I have not read any books by John Harwood before, but I definitely intend to do so. He knows how to weave a good story and create spell-binding characters. He has the talent to create a creepy mood while you're reading the book, so read with care so that you don't miss any of the clues he drops into various scenes. Gothic mystery at its best!
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on 28 January 2015
'The Asylum' is the story of Georgina Ferrars, a young woman who has always lived a sheltered life and has suffered tragedy, the loss of her parents and her aunt. Georgina now lives with her uncle who owns a book store. Georgina lives a quiet life until she she wakes up one day in a strange bed in a strange place with no memory of how she got there, she discovers that she is in an asylum called Tregannon House where she is told by the mysterious Dr Straker that her name is not Georgina Ferrars but Lucy Ashton and she has voluntary committed herself. Georgina pleads with Dr Straker to contact her uncle and is shocked when a telegram arrives saying that Georgina Ferrars is in London which leads to Georgina being certified insane. As Georgina tries to recapture her lost memory, memories from her past are revealed and secrets come to light.

I enjoyed 'The Asylum', it was a bit slow at first but as the story progressed I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Georgina. The story is well written, the characters are wonderful to read. Georgina is the perfect main character, she is not a damsel in distress, she faces everything with strength, she is scared but still remains strong.

Dr Straker is also a well written character, there is a underlying edge to him that Georgina quickly notices but because of the confusion she is feeling, she questions herself, you could feel her frustration towards Dr Straker. Frederic Mordaunt is a more subtle character I felt, he hides so much from others because of his fears and is more involved with Georgina than he realises.

I loved the feeling of the book, the description of Tregannon House, the asylum where Georgina wakes up is brilliantly done, you can envision the house, the surrounding areas, how isolated it is, the description of Victorian London is described well too which I enjoyed.

There are twists and turns throughout the book, at times I thought I had solved the mystery (and I was correct in some ways). I enjoyed the ending too.

John Harwood is a wonderful writer and I have enjoyed his previous two novels 'The Ghost Writer' and 'The Seance'. The only downside of the book was it did not enthral me as quickly as 'The Ghost Writer' did, however, I did enjoy 'The Asylum' and I look forward to reading more books by John Harwood.
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on 10 September 2013
A wonderfully written tale of the life and struggles of a woman condemmed to live within the walls of an asylum. As she remembers her past and attempts to display her true identity to wardens and chief doctors who disbelieve her her fate appears dimmed. Towards the end of the book I was perched, quite literally at the end of the chair unable to stop reading and return to the real world until the dramatic conclusion. Everything you thought was true appears to be a windswept lie. A true tale of courage, deception and the high price woman of the victorian era were subjected to be thrown into. A must read for anyone who loves Victorian style or who has interests in the dark gritty walls victorian asylums hid so many of their secrets.

I was however very worried after reading the first chapter that this book may have been plagarised. I recently read a book someone hopes to self publish called 'The asylum' on a writers network page. The book seems to copy the tale, though the author has written in her own words the story of a wronged woman waking up in an asylum, feeling the harsh corse covers of an unknown bed, not knowing who she is has a remarkable resemblance to this book. I would urge John Harwood if he ever reads these to look into it, as I feel authors should be careful copying others works, even if they use their own words- you never know who is reading it. Although I doubt the writer will get far as Harwood as he has already published.
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