Memoirs From The Asylumby Kenneth Weene is a disturbing novel, set in an American state psychiatric institution. The story is told by three characters: a nameless narrator who is there voluntarily, Dr Ambrose, a new psychiatrist who is struggling with his own problems while trying to treat his patients and Marilyn, a catatonic schizophrenic who shields herself from reality by living in her own world. Their lives interweave throughout the story.
In a traditional novel action drives the plot. Readers expect something to happen. In this book there are a few dramatic events but much of the time not much happens. The characters wait and watch the world like caged animals – or psychiatric patients. Nevertheless, the novel is alive with their thoughts and feelings, drawing the reader into the story. The author takes readers on a fascinating journey inside the minds of patients and doctors, revealing a world that most people know little about.
This novel isn’t a gentle, feelgood book. It often jars and is uncomfortably realistic in its portrayal of life in an asylum. There are many tragic characters in it, coping with life as best they can. Some characters have happy endings, many do not.
The diverse characters have believable voices. From the beginning of each chapter it is evident who the narrator is. The structure of the book moves the story steadily on without appearing to do so.
As readers get to know each character the climax of the novel will be almost predictable but it is no less effective for this.
This novel is very different from my usual reading choice. I found myself intrigued, shocked, saddened and, at times, heartened as I read. I became engrossed in its world. While it wasn’t easy reading, I’m glad I read it.