"Passion, misogynist hypocrisy, and a female artist’s yearning for freedom from Victorian constraints, fans of richly woven historic fiction will be absorbed by this suspenseful story."
We rated Noel O'Reilly’s Wrecker debut and his second novel, The Darlings of the Asylum, delivers another accomplished work of female-fronted intrigue. Set in a Victorian asylum, where a young woman has been incarcerated against her will, this enthralling tale of obligation versus aspiration had me utterly invested in its protagonist’s struggle and fate.
From the novel’s opening in Brighton, 1886, the narrator’s yearning for freedom is at the fore, when 23-year-old Violet, born into the minor landed gentry, longs to escape a social gathering. Though she tells her Mama, “Times are changing. A lady isn’t expected to mince about the way they did in your day”, times haven’t changed enough for Violet. In her words, “I’m a singular creature and I experience the deepest urges to escape the humdrum, everyday world.”
While Violet aspires to work as an artist, her mother wants her to marry a wealthy, new money friend from childhood. Felix offers Violet “a chance to be all that you could be”, but she doesn’t want to marry him, or anyone, for that matter. Just as she informs her father of her wishes, he announces that the family finances are in dire straits and so she agrees to the marriage. Then, a few weeks before their wedding, Violet wakes up in the secure ward of a lunatic asylum.
From female patients being measured and prodded like laboratory specimens, to male pronouncements of female “moral insanity” and “mental degeneration”, Violet’s experiences in the asylum are vividly conjured, with an undercurrent of sinister motivations delivering all the exhilarating suspense of a thriller. But, undeterred by sparks of hope fizzling to nothing, Violet remains set on escaping the asylum and the constraints that cage her.
|Primary Genre||Romance / Relationship Stories|
Closing date: 09/12/2023
Closing date: 14/12/2023