by Kathryn Hughes, Headline
by Kathryn Hughes, publisher Headline
Sarah is thirty-eight woman and she has just left her husband and her dream of motherhood is shipwrecked along with marriage, and to recover the reins of her life she returns home to her father with a project: she wants to write a book about the psychiatric hospital of the city, the Ambergate.
A forgotten place, under neglect’s power for many years, but now is the moment where a new use of the hospital will be found thanks to the demolition of part of the structure but before that happens Sarah decides to collect as much data as possible for her research by visiting daily what remains of the structure.
Her idea is to do justice to people were treated in the hospital whose tracks were lost, forgotten souls, often locked up for no apparent reason.
The Ambergate Lunatic Asylum has been giving work to the entire community for many years, including her father who is opposing this project and categorically refuses to talk about what happened in that structure.
One day Sarah runs into a room full of suitcases, pieces of the patients’ memories of the structure and never withdrawn. In one of these cases Sarah finds a disconcerting letter and its content involve her in first person.
Now her research is full of mystery, her investigations are getting deeper and deeper. Her father still refuses to answer her questions, in his opinion to dig up the past never brings anything good.
The suitcase belongs to Amy, a twenty-year-old girl shut up in Ambergate at the explicit request of the parent.
The novel at this point is focused on Amy’s story, unfortunately the only protagonist of this dramatic story. Amy fought for her freedom, aware that she had never been mentally ill, strongly opposed treatment and repeatedly prayed Dr. Lambourn, the only one able to choose for her life.
No one ever believed her, hers was just a thoughtless gesture dictated by the anger of the moment. She wasn’t crazy, she never was. She was just a traumatized girl for witnessing her mother’s death when she was still very young.
Amy is a young woman whose life has been stolen, the joy of creating a family, of seeing her son growing up. The institutions of the time, very rigid, were inhumane and tormented patients with drugs and electroshock.
Sarah proceeds quickly in her research and going on she understands that Amy, like so many other patients, was incarcerated against her will, sedated if necessary, crushed and eventually institutionalized. A long and painful period that made her living a large part of her life inside the structure and then disappeared into nothing.
Only the suitcase remained of her, where were enclosed dreams of a girl, a brush, clothes and a beautiful hand-painted picture, the only memory of her mother. Why didn’t Amy pick up her suitcase once she was released? What happened to her?
Sarah has a message to deliver, now more than ever she has to track down Amy because there is something she needs to know. Sarah thus becomes the spokeswoman for the many sick people in Ambergate.
The unexpected epilogue is the conclusion of a circle opened many years before, the story is recomposed to finally write a novel with a final to be lived.
Thick story, exciting untill the end, but not too sad despite the subject matter. The ingredients are all there: an impossible love, passion, anger, pain, dignity, rebirth, but its greatest value is certainly the narrative rhythm. Dosed to perfection, it has made reading very appealing, supported also by an intuitive and well-balanced writing, highlighting at the same time the most touching passages, making them empathetic and usable to the reader.
Also remember that the book is the promoter of a precise message that the protagonist, an indomitable spirit, knew how to perfectly embody to become more than an example for future futures not to make the same mistakes.
Absolutely to read. I recommend everyone to confront with this incredibly author.
1956. It’s Ellen Crosby’s first day at work as a student nurse at Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum. When she meets a young girl committed by her father, and a pioneering physician keen to try out the various ‘cures’ available for mental illness, little does Ellen know that a choice she will make is to change all their lives forever. 2006. Sarah is drawn to the abandoned Ambergate Asylum and whilst exploring the old corridors she discovers a suitcase in an attic belonging to a female patient who was admitted to the asylum 50 years earlier. The shocking contents of the suitcase lead Sarah to unravel a forgotten story of tragedy, lost love and an old wrong that only Sarah may have the power to put right.