The Darlings of the Asylum by Noel O’Reilly – Review

The Darlings of the Asylum by Noel O'Reilly Review logo

By Sandra Callard

Set loosely in some part of the eighteenth century, Violet is already over the usual age of marriage and her parents are as eager to see her married, as she is to avoid it. At a time when all women had to marry to avoid the shame to their parents of them being unmarried, she is very unhappy.

Soon, Violet commits the ultimate sin and turns down an offer of marriage, and the refusal is so unacceptable to her parents that she is sent to an Asylum, labelled as being out of the control of her parents and therefore somewhat lacking in intelligence.

Incredibly cruel to modern thinking, but perfectly acceptable then, Violet’s incarceration brings out her inner fighter as she shows little intention of bowing down to such brutality. She has a twentieth century mind and the reader’s thoughts are all with her, even though they can probably predict the way the story will go.

“Gradual antagonism”

The Darlings of the Asylum by Noel O'Reilly Review coverThe bulk of The Darlings of the Asylum centres on the poor treatment that the inmates of said Asylum receive, and because this is nowadays widely known, the sordid facts of the treatment of the inmates on the orders of the doctor in charge feels somewhat gratuitous. He is particularly malevolent towards Violet, who is intelligent enough to challenge him, thus endangering herself even more. What should then be the most exciting and interesting part of the story crumbles with an understanding that little can be done to help either Violet or the other members of the Asylum.

There follows the gradual antagonism of the doctor towards Violet, and her attempts to both help the other inmates and to plan an almost impossible escape, which is fun to read but defies belief.

The narrative is strong, and the character of Violet is clearly detailed, but the story is not new as the reader simply waits for the inevitable, which has to be when Violet’s cleverness overcomes the doctor. There are some very good sections that cover the final scenarios, which do keep the reader wondering what the outcome will be, which in fact turns out to be quite unexpected and puzzling.

The horror of the asylum is clear as the reader roots for Violet throughout, but the story arc never builds into something truly engrossing. Still, there’s plenty of crossover appeal here for historical fiction and horror fans.

‘The Darlings of the Asylum’ by Noel O’Reilly is published by HarperCollins, £16.99 hardback


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