The Asylum by John Harwood
HMH • $25 • ISBN 9780544003477
On sale May 21


Tasmanian writer John Harwood is a modern master of the Victorian ghost story. If you've ever wished that Wilkie Collins and MR James had written a book together, check out his atmospheric debut, The Ghost Writer, which had me sleeping with the lights on. In his third novel, The Asylum, the suspense starts on page 1, where young Georgina Ferrars wakes up, disoriented, in a madhouse. The last event she remembers took place on September 23, 1882—and the doctor reveals it is now November. If that's not bad enough, everyone there is calling her Lucy Ashton.

Was it possible that the real Lucy Ashton—where had I heard that name before?—looked just like me? Could we have been confused with each other? But that did nothing to explain what I was doing in a private asylum in Cornwall, a part of the world I had never visited . . . and so my thoughts went spiralling on, until Bella reappeared, struggling under the weight of a stout leather valise, a hatbox and a dark blue travelling-cloak, none of which I recognized.

"I am afraid those are not my things."

The girl regarded me with, I thought, a certain compassion.

"Beg pardon, miss, but you was wearing that cloak when you come here yesterday. And look," she added, setting down the case and opening it. "Here's your wrap, miss, the one you asked me to look out when you was cold later on."

She held up a blue woollen shawl—the pattern was certainly one I might have chosen myself—and draped it around my shoulders. I watched numbly as she opened the closet and began to unpack the case—which had "L.A." stamped in faded gold lettering below the handle. Everything she took out of it looked like clothes I might have chosen myself, but none of them was mine. 

Who is Lucy Ashton? What happened to Georgina during the month of October 1882? You'll want to keep reading to find out.

What are you reading this week?

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