Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book #26: The Asylum

The Asylum by John Harwood

I read John Harwood's first book, The Ghost Writer, a few years ago, and I loved it. I mean, I loved it. I forced my mom to read it just so she could also share my obsession and also so we could discuss the maddeningly ambiguous and spooky ending. "What do you think that meant?!" I asked her. I talked about it to anyone who would listen. The book was full of everything I loved - maybe-ghosts, stories-within-stories, unsettling landscapes. I still think it's a fantastic book.

His second book, The Seance, wasn't as good. But it wasn't terrible. I was slightly disappointed, but more than ready to give his third offering, The Asylum, a try.

And oh, dear. This many issues.

The plot is intriguing enough: a woman wakes up in a mental institution with no idea of how she arrived there, and is horrified to find that all of the staff of the hospital think she is a completely different woman.

So far, so good.

But then it just gets, for want of a better word, stupid. The dialogue gets muddy. The characters make obviously dumb (with glaringly deliberate foreshadowing-y flair) decisions. There are forced and uncomfortable lesbian double entendres. 

And the ending.

I have rarely read such a hurried and "oh, well - yeah, my deadline's coming up, so I'd better wrap up this story really quickly and who cares if nothing is really explained and oh yeah, I'll just suddenly kill off main characters because I don't know what to do with them now" conclusion of a story. I actually found myself double checking to see if the book was missing pages. 

So bad. I hope this doesn't mean that John Harwood is an only-one-good-book-in-him author, but I'm beginning to worry this is the case.

But if you're looking for a really great Gothic ghost story, I'd still recommend The Ghost Writer. And if you read that one, let's talk about it, because I'm still wondering about what actually happened at the end.

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