You decide the ending based on journals and editor’s analysis in this strange but great book, Asylum by Marcus Low.
Barry James is detained in a quarantine facility in the blistering heat of the Great Karoo. Here he exists in two worlds: the unforgiving reality of his incarceration and the lyrical landscapes of his dreams.
He has cut all ties with his previous life, his health is failing, and he has given up all hope. All he has to cling to are the meanderings of his restless mind, the daily round of pills and the journals he reluctantly keeps as testimony to a life once lived.
And then there’s an opportunity to escape.
I thoroughly believe that each reader will take something different away
This is a tough review to write, because I didn’t love the book, but I definitely didn’t hate it, and I am certainly scheduling a re-read of Asylum as soon as possible. Upon finishing, I went back and read the preface and marginalia again, just to try and get a better understanding, which really helped my perspective.
The synopsis supplied on the back of the book (and above) does not explain some vital information about the book, so without spoilers: the first chapter is a ‘preface’, written to set the scene of the content that is to follow. You are given details about Barry and his story and are told that the following information is taken from notebooks/ journals written by Barry, in what the ‘editors’ believe to be a ‘plausible chronology’, despite not having the complete entries. The story then follows the first-person narrative of Barry, wherein he is quarantined. Along the way, there are marginalia, analysing certain topics in the previous chapters, and also an editor’s note at the end which ‘finalises’ the volume.
I found this layout to be astounding, as you’re constantly questioning the reliability of Barry as a character, but also of the editors, as the preface raises some concerning questions. As a reader, I loved how it was for me to decide the events.
I adored the voice of Barry as there were lots of hidden meanings and analogies in his entries (although you are also questioning these throughout), and I am very impressed with Low’s writing in itself. I couldn’t connect with many of the other characters, as I found there was too little information provided.
However, I think this book would’ve been much better if there was more information behind why there was this infection, or at least how the protagonist was infected. You’re thrown in knowing that Barry has this disease and there are several quarantined areas, and that’s just not enough for me. I don’t necessarily need to know all the details, but this book is relatively short, so would there have been an issue adding another paragraph in the preface? Or perhaps in the editor’s note?
When I finished reading Asylum, I just felt like I was missing something, or I hadn’t picked up on an important point. Don’t get me wrong, I still had that end-of-book-shiver, but it just left me with too many questions, and not enough feeling for this to warrant a 5-star rating. Perhaps I’ll feel differently on a re-read?
Do I see this as a dystopian? In definition, it technically is. But for me, I’m just not sure there was enough focus on specific elements that I associate with the dystopian genre. From my point of view, dystopian literature really has to focus on the political side, and this didn’t come through enough. Because of the design of leaving the reader to decide, was oppression and other dystopia factors a major player in the book?
All in all, I just think there needed to be a little bit more information in places, and a little less ‘fluff’ in others. But I would just like to note that I thoroughly believe that each reader will take something different away.
A one of a kind reading experience, and I am seriously impressed. I’m still thinking about this book days on, because it’s just so strange but cool, too.
If you’ve read this book, get in touch, as I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’m 100% welcome for a conversation on what you took away from the book.
Asylum, Marcus Low, RRP £8.99 (paperback); Book Depository
Publisher: Legend Press
Genre: Fiction/ Dystopian