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Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood #bookreview


'There's an amazing sense of place and time in this novel, as Littlewood perfectly captures the literary style, attitudes, and class consciousness of Victorian England' - Publishers Weekly Susan Hill meets Alfred Hitchcock in Alison Littlewood's latest chiller:

 mad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston - but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered ...? Haunted by his father's suicide, Nathaniel Kerner walks away from the highly prestigious life of a consultant to become a mad-doctor. He takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, but the proprietor is more interested in phrenology and his growing collection of skulls than the patients' minds. Nathaniel's only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Harleston: her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions - but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible. Nathaniel is increasingly obsessed with Victoria, but when he has her mesmerised, there are unexpected results: Victoria starts hearing voices, the way she used to - her grandmother always claimed they came from beyond the grave - but it also unleashes her own powers of mesmerism ...and a desperate need to escape. Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of seances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Victoria and save her. But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded - whether of the body or the mind

Amazon UK  £12.99 hardback

Book Depository  £12.99 hardback

Waterstones  £16.99 hardback


I received a copy of this from the publishers in return for a fair and honest review.

The creepy cover sets the tone for this story set in Victorian England and focusing on the asylum/madhouses of the time. The way the patients were treated and how those treating them saw them - some of the methods used were quite horrifying and is fascinating to see how times have changed in how we treat those with mental illness.

It follows the story of Nathaniel Kerner, who has his own memories of madness in the family, and with the ghost of his fathers' suicide hanging over him, he sets out to right the wrongs he feels he was involved in, despite only being a child at the time of this fathers' death, and he becomes a 'mad-doctor' to carry on where his father left off. He wants to help those and learn more of how the brain works, and he finds himself at Crakethorne Asylum in deepest, darkest Yorkshire where he encounters Mrs Victoria Harleston. She is a patient there due to her husband complaining of her 'hysteria' and wants her 'mended' - the Victoria that Nathaniel meets though seems anything but crazy, and he soon becomes obsessed with her.

I really enjoyed the way this book is set - we get his point of view, his case notes and his own journal notes to see how he approaches those he meets, as well as looking back to his own past and dealing with his mother who, herself seems traumatized by the past.

His approach to treatment leads him to the world of the mesmerists, or hypnotists as we now know them, and this unlocks a much darker side to the story which is more chilling than horrifying, as you are left guessing as to the validity of those mesmerists, and of the patients and their experiences.

I found this to be such a hypnotic book to read - sorry for the pun! - with the wonderfully moody settings, the damaged characters and the insight to medical practices of the time. And there doesn't need to be actual monsters to create a horror story when there are people around who can be a lot scarier!!

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