Book Reviews, Reviews

The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls Review

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Chances are you’ve never heard of Emilie Autumn unless you move in very particular musical circles; I very much stumbled across her when someone referenced her in a blog. Her style is self-described as ‘victoriandustrial’ with a bit of musical theatre thrown in, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but something I actually quite like (if you want to check her out I’d start with Opheliac, which is generally considered to be her best album). She’s bipolar and an outspoken feminist, both of which feed into pretty much everything she does. She’s occasionally a bit controversial in her comments and her aesthetic has garnered accusations of romanticising mental illness, but overall I like her and her music has actually helped me through some tough times.

In 2009 Autumn self-published The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls to accompany the tour she was on and is based on the time she spent in a mental institution. Part autobiography, part historical novel, part fantasy, AFWVG is an odd mish-mash of styles mixed in with handwritten notes, recipes and photographs including shots of Autumn herself and as a whole looks stunning.

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I would definitely describe this as a Marmite book: either it works for you or it doesn’t.

The fictional half of the book is told in letters ‘received’ by Autumn during her time in the mental institution. Emily-with-a-Y, a Victorian violin prodigy who is condemned to life in The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, a place where vulnerable girls are mistreated and abused, and ultimately part of sinister dealings by the corrupt Asylum doctors. It’s fairly standard fare, but for the most part it’s executed reasonably well. Emily-with-a-Y is likeable and very human, although she does fall prey to the ‘Chosen One’ trope a little as the Asylum doctors find her a little too interesting for no apparent reason. There are also a few issues with overly-loquacious style and structure – there are places where the action begins to pick up pace only to be followed by a whole chapter describing the food at the Asylum – but I found it relatively enjoyable and, with a good editor (which will be happening now that Autumn has signed with a publishing house) it definitely has potential.

You do need to let historical accuracy go a little which people have complained about, but I don’t think that that was what Autumn was going for. Although her description can be a little clunky at times she does create a vivid, gritty world that holds genuine fear for the female characters and, although the villains are exaggerated, she draws parallels between their attitudes towards women and sentiments that are still held by some today that manage to cut close to the bone.

But it’s the autobiographical parts of the book that are by far the more interesting. Autumn bares her soul in these sections, drawing on things that she wrote around the time she was committed to create not just an account of her time in the mental institution, but a holistic look at what it means to be ‘crazy’. She’s definitely not always likeable in these parts, but she’s brutally honest about it and it’s both harrowing and beautiful. These parts aren’t for the faint hearted – the three diaries she includes sections of are very difficult to read – but I would honestly say it’s worth it. If you’ve ever been through anything similar then Emilie’s thoughts and experiences will probably speak very personally to you.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Autumn became more interested in the fictional world that she created than telling her own story because the autobiographical chapters become less and less frequent and don’t receive any proper conclusion. Instead she meshes the two worlds she’s written about together, which is fair enough, but I would have liked some closure or reflective thoughts on her time in the institution. I would definitely call this my main complaint because I enjoyed (although maybe that’s not the right word) the autobiographical parts much more than the fiction, although I realise that how much Autumn tells us is entirely up to her as it is very personal.

I’m not sure I could say that I recommend this book. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and I know that a lot of people didn’t like it, either because of the faults in the composition of the fiction or because the autobiography didn’t connect with them, and I can definitely understand why. I have to say that I’m glad I read it though because it spoke to me personally. I think it’s the kind of book each individual would have a different experience with, so if it sounds like your kind of thing then check it out. Just make sure you have a strong stomach.

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I was nominated for the Liebster Award!

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I was nominated by the lovely Jemima from thebookaholic. Her blog is wonderful, so go check it out!

Here are the rules:

  • Acknowledge the blog that nominated you and display the award.
  • Answer 11 question that the blog gives you.
  • Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5-11 blogs you think are deserving of the award that have less than 200 followers.
  • Let the blogs know you have nominated them.
  • Give them 11 questions to answer.

And these are the questions Jemima asked:

How many pages do you read in a day?

This varies wildly depending on how busy I am. On a good day it’ll be over 200. On a bad day it’ll be none. Those are dark days. We do not speak of them.

How do you start your day?

Reluctantly! I hate getting out of bed, so I usually leave it until the last minute before rolling out from under the covers and dashing out of the door for work. I’m not really awake until I get into the library, when I use my bullet journal to plan my day out before getting down to business.

What popular book (or series) have you (shamefully) never read?

I’ll completely lose my nerd cred for admitting this, but I’ve never finished the Lord of the Rings series. I’ve read Fellowship and the first half of Two Towers, but I haven’t got any further. It’s been on my TBR for years, and I’ve made myself promise to read all three by the end of 2016!

Who is your book crush?

I’ve been through so many, but my one true love that has never died is Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series. I just want to wrap him in a blanket, make him tea and fight anyone who tries to hurt him.

Who is your favourite artist?

I adore Noelle Stevenson, aka. Gingerhaze. Her doodles and fanart are adorable, and her webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona is one of my favourite things ever. I highly recommend it if you like knights, science, sharks and having your heart stomped into tiny pieces.

What is your favourite meal?

When I was little I refused to eat everything except macaroni cheese. I’ve broadened my tastes a bit since then, but I could still happily return to those days.

What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

Because I’d lose them if I didn’t keep them on at all times I’m not sleeping, the last thing I do is take my glasses off (if I were being super pretentious, I could call that a History Boys reference. But I won’t.)

What is your favourite bookshop?

There’s a wonderful shop in Oxford called The Last Bookshop (spoiler: it’s not actually the last one, there are multiple stores in Oxford and Bristol) which sell new books for £3 or 2 for £5. How can you say no to that? I also have a frankly dangerous University staff discount at Blackwells, and a soft spot for Waterstones, if just because there was one next to the train station where I used to live and whenever I was waiting for a train I’d go in and they’d let me rearrange the Terry Pratchett books.

Where do you want to travel?

I’d love to go to Italy. I was a Classicist at school (and have also played a ridiculous amount of Assassin’s Creed), so the history and culture combined with my ability to point at pretty much any building and say “I’ve climbed up that” makes it pretty much my dream destination.

What is your favourite place to read?

I really like reading on trains. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time on them, what with travelling to school on one every day and now using them to travel home and visit friends a lot, but a long journey and a good book are a perfect combination for me.

What do you like most about blogging?

I like being able to write down my thoughts about what I’m reading and discuss them with other bloggers. There’s a really lovely sense of community in the book blogger community that makes it really easy to slip into a conversation with someone.

 

11 facts about me:

  1. I actually forgot how to ride a bike (seriously).
  2. I play the flute and got my Grade 8 before I left school.
  3. The only reason I read George Orwell’s 1984 was because I lied to a teacher about having read it.
  4. I took Irish Dancing lessons for 14 years.
  5. The highlight of my year is The Great British Bake Off.
  6. I was the first person in my family to read the last Harry Potter book because I stole it from my parents and hid it until I’d finished it.
  7. My party piece is singing the entirety of the song Secrets by Sammy J and Randy with my friend (I’m Sammy J, she’s Randy).
  8. All of our family dogs have been named after Harry Potter characters. So far we’ve had Dumbledore, Luna and Ludo Bagman.
  9. I have been asked multiple times in my life if I plan on becoming a nun just because my Dad’s a vicar.
  10. I can’t wake up in the morning until I’ve had at least one cup of tea.
  11. The first thing I ever remember writing was Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Very little has changed since.

 

I’m nominating adoptabookaus, Wield Words, abookaccount, Outright Book Review and My Novel Thoughts. Here are your questions:

  1. What’s your favourite reading drink?
  2. Where would you most liketo live?
  3. Paperback, hardback or ebook?
  4. What made you want to start a book blog?
  5. What’s your favourite genre?
  6. Do you prefer borrowing from libraries or buying books?
  7. What was the first book you remember reading?
  8. How do your organise your bookshelves?
  9. What author, past or present, would you most like to meet?
  10. What is the last book that made you cry?
  11. What book is next on your TBR?

 

I think this award is a great idea to help smaller blogs (like me!) get to know each other and find a place in the community. Thanks again to thebookaholic for nominating me!