The Asylum, by Johan Theorin

Review published on June 19, 2013. Reviewed by Verity Butler

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

[product sku=”9780857521408″]Jan is a loner with a dark past full of secrets. A nursery teacher by occupation, he answers an advert in the newspaper for a job at a nursery with a difference. Attached by an underground passage to St Patricia’s psychiatric hospital, Dell nursery is a pre-school for the inmates children designed to allow them to keep in regular contact with their incarcerated parents.

Staff at the nursery are forbidden from entering St Patricia’s, asking questions about the inmates, or enquiring with the children about their visits but Jan has heard many stories about the inhabitants of the hospital and as he sends each child off on their journey through the passage he becomes single minded in his goal to enter the hospital… and he isn’t the only one. As he gets closer towards succeeding in his mission Jan’s dark past comes back to haunt him. What happened to the boy who went missing in his care nine years previously? What is his connection the inmate he’s trying to get to, and how far is he willing to go to find a way to contact her?

When I first read the blurb for “The Asylum” I was really excited to read it. The premise of the story seemed to balance psychological mystery with crime well, and over the past few years I’ve grown a strong penchant for any books which can be described as “chilling Swedish psychological crime” fiction.

Unfortunately, I was largely disappointed with the book. My biggest issue is with the translation, I think. You can usually tell when a book is written badly, or if it just hasn’t translated well and I definitely feel it’s the latter with this book. The prose didn’t flow well and I found it very hard to get absorbed into the story because of this.

The plot line really relies on the reader being completely hooked from the start – the characters are all hiding deep dark secrets and they’re drip fed to the reader slowly and steadily meaning that the reader has to have a lot of patience to wait for the answers to the mysteries they’re being presented with. I didn’t hate reading the book, or dread picking it up, but neither was I finding any excuse in my day to pick it up and find out what was going to happen next. My enjoyment of the story definitely suffered because of this. Additionally, the story of the missing child from Jan’s past made me feel very uncomfortable and not in an enjoyable edge-of-my-seat kind of way, in an I-really-don’t-want-to-read-this-if-it-continues-in-this-vein kind of way!

Another aspect of the book I had difficulty with was the flatness of the characters. Jan really gave me the creeps to begin with but then he just levelled out into a nothing character. I didn’t like or dislike any of the characters. I simply didn’t care about any of them, even the children, and when I don’t feel any kind of emotion for the characters I’m reading about I’m only ever going to be able to enjoy a book to a certain level.

The plot of the story was interesting, but on the whole I was disappointed with my experience and I don’t feel like the blurb accurately provides readers with an idea of what it is going to be about.

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