*This review is based on an advanced reading copy. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a chance to read the book in exchange for an honest review*
"" There are plenty of mad women in here. I'm not sure I'm one of them, though." She shrugged. "You'll get used to it.""
I'm feeling a little neurotic reading all of these books that explore mental illnesses lately. This story takes place in an asylum in England throughout 1911, back when almost anything could land you with a one way ticket to crazytown. Each chapter is told through one of the three main characters' perspectives. Ella is the focus of the story, a woman who felt stifled in her workplace everyday and finally felt the need to be free. After breaking a window in the mill, Ella is sent to an asylum which she believes is all just a big misunderstanding and hopes she'll be released as soon as this is realized. The only problem is that no one cares to look for her or advocate for her sanity. John is also in the asylum, and his job is to dig graves for the people who could not come back from their illnesses. Originally from Ireland, John gave up on caring about anything after the death of his parents and his child, until he sees Ella trying to run away. Charles, a worker at the asylum, is determined to find a solution for his upcoming Eugenics conference. His focus is on playing music for the patients to find whether it helps to soothe them. After some time, though, he realizes that there is no helping these people and ultimately believes that they should not be able to breed.
Above all else, this book is a master of character building. Our three main characters are described in such detail that I felt like I knew them and the secondary characters were an added bonus, especially Clem. Although this book could almost be considered a romance in my eyes, the setting of the asylum gives it more depth. This was a dark tale but absolutely fascinating and unfortunately, it's most likely historically accurate. Back when little was known about mental illness, almost anyone could be labelled insane (especially women). The fact that other things were taking place at the asylum that no one seemed to notice was frightening, but not surprising. Overall, I enjoyed the read but I did like to think of it more as a romance than fiction.