The Asylum by Johan Theorin

“That way madness lies…”

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Publication date: 14th March 2013

AsylumA slow-burn psychological thriller, the book starts with loner Jan Hauger applying to work in the pre-school that is attached to St Patricia’s psychiatric hospital, known to locals as St Psycho’s. From the beginning we know that Jan has reasons of his own for wanting to be close to the asylum – reasons that the author slowly reveals as he lets us see inside Jan’s head. St Patricia’s holds some of the most dangerous criminals in Sweden but security isn’t as tight as those in charge think. As Jan gets to know his colleagues he finds that, like himself, many of them have a fascination with what goes on inside…

The book is told in the third person but very much from Jan’s perspective. Cutting between present and past, we gradually discover what events in Jan’s troubled past have led him here. The other characters can accept him at face value as a pleasant young man who loves and is loved by the children in his care. But the reader knows that there are darker aspects to his personality and hidden incidents in his past. There is some moral ambiguity here – as we find out about his history, it is easy for the reader to empathise with Jan despite, rather than because of, his past actions and current intentions.

Johan Theorin
Johan Theorin
Theorin writes well and the translation by Marlaine Delargy is seamless; it’s easy to forget that this is a translation at all. The plot is well constructed and has some original aspects to it. However, the story is told very slowly and somehow that stopped the tension building as much as might have been expected given the subject matter. Jan is a believable character, a troubled soul who finds it difficult to make connections with the people around him. But the premise that so many of the characters connected with the hospital had ulterior motives for being there meant that in the end I found some elements of the story unconvincing – it seemed to rely too heavily on unlikely coincidences and circumstances.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the psychological aspects of the book and found Jan’s character interesting enough to make me want to know the outcome. And the end, when it finally came, was worth waiting for – morally ambiguous like much of the book and no less satisfying for that. Despite my criticisms, I found this a good read on the whole and will certainly look out for more of this author’s work. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.

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