Back in February, Teresa reviewed Patrick McGrath’s splendidly dark little psychological thriller, Asylum. At the time, I was looking for a free copy of it on Bookmooch, and it’s only now that I’m getting around to reading it myself, so I’m not going to repeat Teresa’s good work: if you’d like the plot summary and some excellent musings, go to her review. Here are a few of my thoughts, just as an addition.
I loved this book. If I were talented enough to write novels, this is the sort of novel I would write. It’s chock-a-block with dark obsession, manipulation, unreliable narrators piled on top of other unreliable narrators, and the delicate interweaving of symbolism, all without seeming obvious or over-the-top. Take, to begin with, the names of the three main characters: the artist and murderer Edgar Stark, with its associations of strength and solitude but also its assonance with strike; the psychologist Peter Cleave, with all the ambiguity of that verb, which can mean either to cling or to rend asunder; and the unfaithful wife Stella Raphael, the star and the angel.
Then there are the repeated images throughout the book. Imprisonment of one kind or another. Water — in the garden, in the pond with snakes in it, in Wales with newts in it. Ownership. Parenthood. Sexuality (the phrase “my Edgar” eventually makes you shudder with the realization of who has been suppressing what information from whom.) Art, and the art of psychology, and the psychology of artists. It’s impossible to explain enough about the book without giving away too much about the plot, but McGrath takes his time creating his story. In less than 250 pages, he builds tension between the characters, making you wonder who is telling the truth, making you understand the truth just moments too late. It’s a wonderful, haunting, delicious slice of madness. I wish I’d written it, but I’m very glad I read it.