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ASYLUM by Patrick McGrath


by Patrick McGrath

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45228-1
Publisher: Random House

 A contemporary master of highbrow gothic fiction, McGrath (Dr. Haggard's Disease, 1993, etc.) sticks to worldly psychopathology in his icy new novel. At the center of this study in ``morbid obsessional sexual compulsion'' is Stella Raphael, a British woman of extraordinary beauty married to a dull, unimaginative, cold forensic psychiatrist. Which makes life hard for the passionate Stella, who soon finds herself infatuated with one of the inmates at the maximum security institution where her husband works. Edgar Stark, a sculptor with a distinct ``animal vitality,'' suffers from ``morbid delusions.'' Insane jealousy inspired by these delusions led him to bludgeon his wife to death. A trusty at the hospital, Edgar works on the grounds of Stella's house, where their daily chats soon escalate into sweaty ruttings in the gazebo. After Edgar escapes, Stella follows him, but life underground with Edgar in London quickly becomes hard and shabby, and Stella misses her ten- year-old son. When Edgar's explosive jealousy emerges once again, Stella goes home. Her husband loses his job, and the family is forced into exile in Wales. In deep depression, Stella engages in meaningless sex with her landlord, drinks herself into a stupor, and watches, helpless, as her son drowns on a school outing. Found to be negligent, judged to be mad, she winds up in the very institution where her husband used to work, and where Stark is now an inmate again. But the real twist to this otherwise melodramatic tale is the narrator, himself a staff psychiatrist who treats both Stella and Edgar, and who also has designs on Stella--yet another man trying to possess this free spirit. The unreliability of the narrator, the intense psychological layerings of the narrative, and the fevered interpretations of events by McGrath's characters make for a truly complex (but never obscure) novel. McGrath, always a worthy descendant of Poe, here takes things a level higher--producing fiction in the tradition of Henry James. (First printing of 75,000; author tour)