Friday, January 29, 2010

'Love in the Asylum' by Lisa Carey

It's not until I was at the second last chapter of Love in the Asylum (by Lisa Carey) that I realised how dexterously Carey had handled writing it. Not only did she shift between two points of view (the protagonist, Alba, in first-person POV, and the male lead, Oscar, in third), she also inserted a subsidiary narrative in the form of a chain of unsent letters in the story. The letters form a quest for the rehabilitating Alba, who has been in the asylum for bipolar disorder ever since her father gave her baby away (she was nineteen then).

As the title suggests, it is a romance set in an asylum, which houses mentally-unwell females along with junkies. Oscar is a drug addict, and a self-destructive one who doesn't see any future for himself, which makes him hesitant to commit to Alba, even though their attraction is undeniable. When Alba chances upon the letters (dated in the 1930s), which span across the years the addresser was committed to the asylum by her unfeeling husband, she makes it a quest to find the addressee, Peter, and hand him the letters that his unwell mother had written to him.

It's an unconventional sort of love story, with a lot of things unsaid and a lot of reservations because of Alba and Oscar's respective challenges, and while it wasn't earth-shatteringly remarkable, the way Carey weaves her narration is impressively skilful.

I'd read her latest novel, Every Visible Thing, a while back. It's a family saga that explores the ramifications of the disappearance of the eldest son, how the younger children deal with the sudden loss of their brother, and how the family is pushed to the brink of crumbling and then pulled back again. Frankly, in terms of the genre, the best I've ever read if probably Christie Hodgen's Hello, I Must Be Going, and Alice Hoffman's The Story Sisters, but Every Visible Thing is still, in my opinion, worth a read.

But what made me pick up Love in the Asylum was - yes, you've guessed it - its themes of love, madness and salvation. I'm just dying to read stories about insanity and love.

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