The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated—these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball—the Madwomen’s Ball—when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpetriere dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Genevieve is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugenie—the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. Because Eugenie has a secret: she sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits,Eugenie is determined to escape from the asylum—and the bonds of her gender—and seek out those who will believe in her. And for that she will need Genevieve’s help
I’m going to be completely honest and confess that I bought this book based on the cover and the fact that the book had been translated from French. I knew nothing else about it and regret nothing because I really enjoyed this book! I swear that I do try to avoid judging books by their covers…but on this occasion, it paid off.
The plot of this book was really interesting. The way that Eugenie had been raised to fear the Salpetriere Asylum was almost a foreshadow of her fate. I think that this book was an excellent narrative of the struggles of women who were marked as being “insane” yet many of them were not. It was utterly heartbreaking to read about these women being locked up and forgotten about by their loved ones. Because they became “inconvenient”.
This books as based on real, historical events which was both shocking yet not. People have done (and continue to do) horrid acts that dehumanise others so it was horrible to know that there used to be a ball where the wealthy elite could rub shoulders with the “mad women”. This book kept asking the quark on of “who really are the mad ones?”
The actions of the doctors were horrific, they did not see the women as humans at all. They were often used so that the doctor could show off, they did not seem to care about helping the women. This was instantly apparent and was so annoying, despite being historically accurate. It was so scary to think that, were I alive in that time period, I could have made one comment that would result in my sanity being questioned and being locked away for the rest of my life…unless the man who authorised my imprisonment agreed to let me out. It wasn’t a pleasant thought!
I thought that this book covered Genevieve’s grief towards her sister in such a beautiful way. She had found a coping mechanism that worked for her and helped her. I really enjoyed reading about how Genevieve had previously been hurt while treating a patient who reminded her of her sister, she was forced to put up a hard layer of defence which Eugenie broke through.
I felt so bad for Eugenie. She had spent her life fearing the Asylum and her trusting nature had led to her imprisonment. Has Eugenie lived in modern times, she’d have been a celebrity with a to programme but in 19th Century Paris she was labelled as a “mad woman”.
I really felt like each of the main characters showed a lot of growth. I also felt like Louise, showed so much growth too.
I did have suspicions of the twist at the end and hoped that I was wrong. Not because it was a bad ending for a story but because I wanted a better ending for the characters.
This books as super short but was really thought provoking. Parts of this book made me so mad! While this book took place in the 19th Century, I thought that it provided a lot of thinking points towards mental health and women’s health. We still have so much to learn.
This book had some very upsetting parts, they were not gratuitous but I would recommend checking trigger warnings if you need to as you need to look after yourself. The only reason I’m not giving this book 5 stars is because I really wanted maybe 50 more pages. I’d have loved to know more about what happened to each character at the end as I’d only just gotten into my reading groove and then it was finished-combination of being a pretty quick reader and the book being around 220 pages. I really did enjoy this book though and I think I would reread it.