Asylum

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With the publication of BLOOD AND WATER AND OTHER TALES in 1988, Patrick McGrath was hailed as the Edgar Allan Poe of the 1980’s, a gothic writer with a postmodern penchant for parody. Over the course of three novels he refined his characteristic mix of horror and hoax into a more effective (less excessive) means for pursuing his twin interests “in the dark and hidden areas of human nature and how they have been represented in fiction.” The result of all this sharpening of the literary scalpel is ASYLUM, a superbly crafted as well as mesmerizing psychological thriller in a gothic mode that is also a brilliant send-up of the very desires it depicts and literary devices it deploys.

ASYLUM reconstructs not only the gothic novel but Broadmoor, the hospital for the criminally insane where McGrath’s father was superintendent. It is not just the hospital with its “moral architecture” embodying “regularity, discipline, and organization,” that follows “the standard Victorian model” but the novel (or more accurately, the narration) as well, which, though set in 1959-1960, has a distinctly Victorian feel, of something both chastely reserved and unnervingly repressed, scientifically detached and appallingly voyeuristic. Into this anachronistic world steps the hospital’s newly appointed deputy superintendent, a competent but dull forensic psychiatrist named Max Raphael and his wife Stella. Max’s “affection for all things Victorian” results...

(The entire section is 469 words.)