Rated Reads


by Patrick McGrath

Rated: Moderate

Stella Raphael is married to Max, a psychiatrist who has recently become the assistant superintendent at a large mental hospital in rural England. The move from London has compounded Stella’s boredom in life and her marriage to the non-exciting Max. She manages her home, watches over her 10-year-old son, and wanders outside in the garden, where one of the patients from the hospital is renovating the conservatory. In this creative soul and tortured artist, Edgar Stark, Stella finds some excitement. Despite (or perhaps because of) the reason he’s in the hospital — he murdered his wife and then disfigured her body — Stella allows herself to be caught up in a passionate affair.

Of course, these kinds of things never end well, and Stella eventually finds herself essentially trapped with her son and resentful husband in an even more remote area, and severely depressed. A tragedy leads her to therapy with Peter, the book’s narrator, at the very hospital where her destructive love affair began. Peter and readers explore the depths of the passion and obsession Stella has had for Edgar — all the while never sure how the story will end.

Asylum is an interesting psychological study about the damage that can be done by a sexual affair. On the one hand, we as readers are meant to feel sorry for Stella, at least a little, but it was difficult for me to really feel bad for her because of the string of bad decisions she made. It was also interesting to see just how much leeway she was given because of her beauty. I had been expecting more of a gothic tale, but this was really more a psychological exploration of obsession, depression, and passion.

Rated: Moderate. There are four uses of strong language, as well as other moderate and mild language; sexual references are frequent because of the nature of the plot, but most of them are fairly brief and not very detailed. There is also some violence, and a few details about the murder committed by Edgar are mildly disturbing.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Asylum
  • by Patrick McGrath
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: