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The Whores' Asylum by Katy Darby
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The Whores' Asylum (2012)

by Katy Darby

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First published on Booking in Heels.

Plot summary - Oxford, 1887: Even as Victoria celebrates the fiftieth year of her reign, a stone's throw from the calm cloisters and college spires lies Jericho, a maze of seedy streets and ill-lit taverns, haunted by drunkards, thieves and the lowest sort of brazen female as ever lifted her petticoats.

When Stephen Chapman, a brilliant young medical student, is persuaded to volunteer at a shelter devoted to reforming the fallen women of Oxford, his closest friend Edward feels a strange sense of dread. But even Edward - who already knows the devastating effect of falling in love with the wrong woman - cannot foresee the macabre and violent events that will unfold around them, or stop Diana, the woman who seems destined to drive them apart.


That's a wonderful plot summary; it's just a shame it doesn't really relate to the damn book at all. Hell, I still want to read the book that blurb refers to. The actual story is much more mundane, generic and, frankly, boring than the above makes it sound. There's not much mystery, violence, dark twists or anything else that it implies - instead it's just a rather dreary story that I struggled to pick up again after every time I put it down.

It's written in four parts incorporating supposedly different viewpoints and timelines to document the current sad state of Mr Goodman, who we meet at the beginning. It's an interesting concept and I understand what the author was trying to do, but I can't help but feel that not much was revealed by each viewpoint - we don't really learn anything new about the characters and each perspective sounded pretty much the same to me. The various chapters just didn't seem to 'click' together. Like, various questions are raised in one chapter, and the next tries valiantly to answer them... but somehow doesn't quite manage.

On that character point, I just couldn't be induced to care about any of them. Fraser was too uppity and condemning while Goodman is too weak and naive. Once again, I do understand the principle behind these characters and why they are how they are, but it was taken too far in that direction and ended up just irritating me beyond belief. I liked Sukey's character although her personality development wasn't really subtle or refined enough for my liking.

And Diana. Oh Diana. I get the feeling the reader is meant to like her by the end, but I absolutely couldn't. She came across as alternately malicious and weak and although Goodman and Fraser might suddenly, startlingly accept her flaws for no good reason, there was actually no good reason for them to do so.

That's the other point about this book - a lot of it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Fraser's guilt towards the end is completely unfounded and we're never really told why he suddenly becomes so receptive to Diana. It actually made me want to hurl the book across the desk in frustration, because what was revealed should in no way have been responsible for his complete opinion overhaul. Also, I know this is a work of fiction, but Goodman's eventual downfall was incredibly unrealistic, both in a literal sense and a medical one. It's technically possible, yes, but the balance of probabilities makes it so unlikely it's ridiculous.

The thing is, Katy Darby could actually be a very talented writer - the quality of the prose in The Whore's Asylum is astounding and the descriptions of Victorian London are beautifully vivid. I would challenge any experienced author to do better. It's the just the incredibly slow plot and character development that let her down - with a little more planning out and consideration, her next work could be astounding. ( )
  generalkala | Sep 29, 2012 |
I should admit that this isn’t a genre I normally read, and I requested this book because I thought it might make a nice change.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get on with it. I found the writing style stilted, the pace slow and the characters somewhat artificial. On the plus side, it has good descriptions of 19th C Oxford and has quite an atmospheric feeling to it, and I can understand that readers who enjoy this genre would get more from it than I did. ( )
  hashford | May 7, 2012 |
Set in the late 1800's , the storyline is set around three main characters who have different backgrounds, breeding and beliefs. The book had me enthralled within the first few pages due to the air of mystery that was created.

The characters are vividly described and the attention to detail of the settings, language used and etiquette is superb. The story is based on two scholars, one for the priesthood and one training to become a doctor in pathology. During his training to become a doctor he is given the chance to study on live cases who are working girls and are suffering from venereal diseases. This appeals to him very strongly but when he tries to explain this to his friend, who is studying for the priesthood, conflict of interests arise. The priest-to-be is appalled and horrified that the doctor could cure the girls so they could go back to plying their immoral trade.

On his research at the Asylum the doctor falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter. When his trainer cannot attend a ball he gives the doctor the two tickets and he takes his priest friend. On arriving at the ball he sees his lover in the arms of another man and the priest recognises her from his past life.

The author then relates each of the characters stories, the trainee priest, the trainee doctor and the madam. As each of the story unfolds, you find yourself drawn further into the book, sensing how each character is feeling and understanding the motives for their beliefs, some of which are still poignant today as we judge people we do not know without really getting to know them. The difference between the classes are a major issue in this book, how the rich live and dominate, the students living in squalor and struggling to survive and finally the working class who have to make ends meet in anyway.

When you read this book you will find yourself challenging your thoughts and beliefs. As each story gets further down the line, the mysterious air and lives of each of the characters still remains and it is not until right at the end of the story you get the full picture.

The period of the storyline is one of my favourites in history and is excellently represented and anyone who enjoys historic novels must read this book. ( )
  beckvalleybooks | Feb 13, 2012 |
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When you read these words, and all those that follow, I am afraid it must be because I am no longer here to speak them to you. Love is a disease; no doubt of it, and one which has proved mortal to many men down the ages . . .Oxford, 1887: Even as Victoria celebrates the fiftieth year of her reign, a stone's throw from the calm cloisters and college spires lies Jericho, a maze of seedy streets and ill-lit taverns, haunted by drunkards, thieves and the lowest sort of brazen female as ever lifted her petticoats.When Stephen Chapman, a brilliant young medical student, is persuaded to volunteer at a shelter devoted to reforming the fallen women of Oxford, his closest friend Edward feels a strange sense of dread. But even Edward - who already knows the devastating effect of falling in love with the wrong woman - cannot foresee the macabre and violent events that will unfold around them, or stop the woman who will drive them apart.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1905490801, 0241954223

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