Book Review: Asylum by Patrick McGrath

Asylum by Patrick McGrath

This book was recommended to me by Coffee and a Book Chick although I can’t quite remember in what context. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. I got it, I read it and I liked it, a lot.

Asylum: What it is about

In the late 1950s, Stella and her husband Max move to a mental asylum where Max will be working as a deputy superintendent. Their house is on the hospital terrain.

Stella is rather bored in this isolated place and befriends a patient who is working in their garden and greenhouse (together with other patients). This is Edgar Stark, a serious case, who has killed and beheaded his wife for suspected adultery.

Max doesn’t know about her increasingly close relationship with Edgar while Edgar makes good use of his contact with the outside world (i.e., with her).

In the end, everything falls apart, and Stella has to choose between her stable but boring husband, or exciting (but potentially dangerous) Edgar.

Asylum: What I thought

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. It’s told by Peter Cleave, one of the psychiatrists and he obviously has the whole story straight from Stella. It seems that she did not talk to him solely as a colleague’s wife but also as a patient.

For most of the book, it’s unclear how it came about that she told Peter her story. That made the whole book a bit mysterious. How did she end up as Peter’s patient when she was the wife of his colleague?

I didn’t at all approve of her relationship with the inmate. Although I could theoretically understand that she was bored in the isolated hospital, I could not imagine that she would want to be friendly with Edgar. On the other hand, we have to remember that the story was told from the perspective of Peter, and since Edgar was his patient as well, he knew more about what Edgar had done and was still capable of doing, than Stella.

The woman made some really bad choices, but the book was so interesting! I didn’t feel the need to read it all in one go, but I was definitely keen to find out what happened next.

The book was very well written too, a literary style that is not over the top. The author wasn’t trying to be clever, it felt genuinely like his way of writing. I’ll definitely want to read more by Patrick McGrath!


Atrocious Covers ChallengeThis book turned out to be ideal for the Atrocious Covers Challenge. Look at the cover below!

I really don’t like that very depressing cover. But since I got the book from bookmooch, I didn’t actually select the book on the basis of the cover, which was a good thing for once.

I was really wondering whether I’d have any books for the Atrocious Covers Challenge as I do select books based for a great deal on their cover. But yes, here is my first (out of the two that I committed to do for this challenge). Anyone has another great book with an awful cover, please?

 Atrocious Cover

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: from

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 249

First published: 1996

Genre: literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

33 Responses to Book Review: Asylum by Patrick McGrath

  1. Cindy says:

    Awful covers, now that’s a lovely challenge to do, now that BOTB has ended!

  2. Misha says:

    Lol. I read this book a few years ago, but I do remember that the cover was really horrible. Like you, I didn’t approve of Stella , yet somehow I ended up enjoying the book.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Misha, yes, it was an interesting book. I would never have picked it up if it hadn’t been recommended to me. I will read more by this author now.

  3. Mystica says:

    I read and reviewed this book a couple of months back. I found it disturbing.

  4. I have to get this book! It sounds right up my street!

    Now I have just seen Mystica’s comment above about it being disturbing – does that mean that it will be another Under the Skin (that still gives me the heebie-jeebies!)? 😉

  5. Louise says:

    I’m definitely going to ge this..seems my type if thing, I do like a bit of a disturbing read at times 😉

  6. Great review of Asylum. Sounds eery. That is one terrible cover. I have seen some terrrible covers. Some that look like their best friend took a picture of them and they slapped it on the cover. Just terrible. So this one of Asylum is bad, but not the worst.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Not the worst, Lena? Amazing! Well, I do try to avoid books with bad covers because covers are an indication for me whether or not I’ll like the book – in this case I would have been wrong to pass it by.

  7. Lucybird says:

    I like the sound of this. Thanks for the great review

  8. This one sounds very intriguing. Like you, there is no way I can ´understand´ that she gets involved with a supposedly dangerous inmate, but as we all know that hundreds of women write to serial killers and want to marry them, it doesn´t strike me as unrealistic in any way.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Dorte, you’re right. And this woman was very bored in her marriage so someone who wasn’t as steady and dependable as her own husband was very attractive to her.

  9. Nadine Nys says:

    I think I will have to read this… Thanks for the review, because, just like you, I would never have picked this up because of the ugly cover.

  10. Tes says:

    Any psycho drama novel will definitely make me up whole night reading 🙂

  11. Novroz says:

    Hmmm I don’t think the cover is bad,Judith

    • Leeswammes says:

      You don’t, Novroz? The cover at the end of the post (not the one at the top)? Oh, I really don’t like it. But that’s OK, we all have different tastes. Someone must have liked it a lot, otherwise the book wouldn’t have got that cover. 🙂

      If you would send me an example of a cover that you really don’t like, it would make my day!

  12. Pingback: Announcing the Ugly Covers Competition! « Leeswammes' Blog

  13. I can’t believe I missed this post! So sorry – and so glad you liked the book, too! I also was horrified by Stella’s choices and agree that the author’s writing hooked me in from the start. Nice to have a contemporary novel in such a Gothic style – loved it!

  14. Chris says:

    This is a great book and a very good review! If you are interested, take a look at Quarter, here there’s a review of “Asylum”:

  15. Amanda Lawrenson says:

    This book was recommended in psychologies magazine under the genre of passionate intense romance!! I then happened to watch the 1995 film version starring Natasha Richardson, which has made me very keen to read the book especially after reading these reviews.

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