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From our most celebrated writer of the psychological thriller comes this nerve-wracking yet eerily beautiful work of erotic obsession and madness.

In the summer of 1959 Stella Raphael joins her psychiatrist husband, Max, at his new posting—a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. Beautiful and headstrong, Stella soon falls under the spell of Edgar Stark, a brilliant and magnetic sculptor who has been confined to the hospital for ...

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From our most celebrated writer of the psychological thriller comes this nerve-wracking yet eerily beautiful work of erotic obsession and madness.

In the summer of 1959 Stella Raphael joins her psychiatrist husband, Max, at his new posting—a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. Beautiful and headstrong, Stella soon falls under the spell of Edgar Stark, a brilliant and magnetic sculptor who has been confined to the hospital for murdering his wife in a psychotic rage.

But Stella's knowledge of Edgar's crime is no hindrance to the volcanic attraction that ensues—a passion that will consume Stella's sanity and destroy her and the lives of those around her.

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Editorial Reviews

Kate Tuttle

Patrick McGrath's stylish new novel, Asylum, should only add to his reputation as the leader of the neo-Gothic pack. Set in a British mental hospital, the book also signals the ascendancy of psychiatrists as the genre's villain of choice, finally replacing vampires. It's not that big a change, if you think about it. But while the undead are only after your blood, shrinks want to mess with your mind.

As does Asylum. It's the story of Stella Raphael, a woman trapped not only by her loveless marriage to Max, the hospital's assistant superintendent, but also by the claustrophobic life (including a big house on the hospital grounds) dictated by her husband's job. Stella's smart, sensuous, bored. When she meets Edgar Stark, a handsome sculptor who murdered, decapitated and mutilated his wife, her overripe loneliness bursts. Recklessly, dreamily, she begins an affair that threatens her sanity as well as her arriage.

Enter Peter Cleave, the narrator. He's Edgar's psychiatrist, Max's colleague and Stella's confidante; yet his interest is more than personal, it's professional. Peter specializes in "the catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession." In Stella's story, he finds plenty of material. Despite Peter's warnings and Max's growing suspicions, Stella can't give up Edgar. In a plot as delectably twisted as his characters, McGrath scripts Stella's flight from the hospital's stultifying tension to two very different hellholes -- first on the lam with Edgar, later in a desolate Welsh farmhouse with Max and their son, Charlie.

If, as one of McGrath's characters says, "psychiatry attracts people with high anxiety about going mad," then Peter is an anomaly. He betrays as little anxiety as any good psychopath; he is already mad. Since McGrath studs the narrative with hints of Peter's oddly proprietary air toward "his" Edgar, we are less surprised than thrillingly creeped-out by the good doctor's glee when circumstances place Stella under his care. At last, he says, he can start "stripping away her defenses and opening her up, seeing what that psyche of hers really looked like."

An insane narrator, rampant symbolism and the near-inevitability of a movie deal (Jeremy Irons, anyone?) could make Asylum unbearable, a mere bag full of gimmicks. But instead, it's outrageously fun. Smart, frightening, funny and surprisingly affecting, McGrath's latest elevates the psychiatric case-study to high art. -- Salon

New York Times Book Review
McGrath is a master [whose] novels reverberate with echoes of previous masters of horror, from Poe to Hitchcock to Brian de Palma.... A writer of generous gifts.
New Yorker
Superb.... Asylum is McGrath's most somber and most realistic book, and also his best.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McGrath (Dr. Haggard's Disease) has a mind that revels in the toxic side of things. In this tale of headlong descent into darkness and despair, the toxicity comes from obsessional love. Stella Raphael is the lovely but dissatisfied wife of Max, a resident psychiatrist at an asylum for the criminally insane in the countryside near London. She becomes infatuated with Edgar Stark, a sculptor who murdered and mutilated his wife in a delusionary fit, and the two contrive a passionate affair when Edgar is assigned to work in the Raphaels' garden on the asylum grounds. Stealing Max's clothes, Edgar escapes to London and goes underground, where Stella eventually follows him. When he begins to manifest the same furious jealousies that led to his wife's murder, she flees home again, only to find she has ruined her husband's career. The Raphaels, with their young son, Charlie, are exiled to a remote hospital in rural Wales, where further disaster strikes as Stella drifts into her own desperate delusions. The story is told by another psychiatrist at the asylum, ostensibly through interviews with Stella. Although the doctor's own interpolations are sometimes a relief in the supercharged atmosphere, this seems an unnecessary device, and the intended frisson of his participation in the somber conclusion doesn't come off. In every other respect, however, the book is hypnotizing, with its own strange but darkly convincing pace and style; and the way in which nature and climate are woven into the fabric of the bizarre couple's strange love is masterly.
Library Journal
In McGrath's latest, which Random hopes will be his breakout book, the bored but gorgeous wife of a boring but successful psychiatrist launches a devastating affair with a sculptor who murdered his wife.
Michael Wood
The triumph of this novel is that this unthinkable folly is made to seem an honorable if destructive option.
--The New York Times Book Review
People Weekly
Beautifully written, morally complex, utterly convincing.
Michiko Kakutani
Taut, tension-filled... a chilling story that works as both a Freudian parable and an old-fashioned gothic shocker.
-- The New York Times
Los Angeles Times
A book as absorbing as it is intelligent.... The story of this love affair unfolds like a dream into a nightmare -- the characters move relentlessly toward their tragic end with desire raging like a fire, gathering strength and destroying everything and everyone in it spath.
Kirkus Reviews
A contemporary master of highbrow gothic fiction, McGrath (Dr. Haggard's Disease, 1993, etc.) sticks to worldly psychopathology in his icy new novel.

At the center of this study in "morbid obsessional sexual compulsion" is Stella Raphael, a British woman of extraordinary beauty married to a dull, unimaginative, cold forensic psychiatrist. Which makes life hard for the passionate Stella, who soon finds herself infatuated with one of the inmates at the maximum security institution where her husband works. Edgar Stark, a sculptor with a distinct "animal vitality," suffers from 'morbid delusions." Insane jealousy inspired by these delusions led him to bludgeon his wife to death. A trusty at the hospital, Edgar works on the grounds of Stella's house, where their daily chats soon escalate into sweaty ruttings in the gazebo. After Edgar escapes, Stella follows him, but life underground with Edgar in London quickly becomes hard and shabby, and Stella misses her ten- year-old son. When Edgar's explosive jealousy emerges once again, Stella goes home. Her husband loses his job, and the family is forced into exile in Wales. In deep depression, Stella engages in meaningless sex with her landlord, drinks herself into a stupor, and watches, helpless, as her son drowns on a school outing. Found to be negligent, judged to be mad, she winds up in the very institution where her husband used to work, and where Stark is now an inmate again. But the real twist to this otherwise melodramatic tale is the narrator, himself a staff psychiatrist who treats both Stella and Edgar, and who also has designs on Stella—yet another man trying to possess this free spirit.

The unreliability of the narrator, the intense psychological layerings of the narrative, and the fevered interpretations of events by McGrath's characters make for a truly complex (but never obscure) novel. McGrath, always a worthy descendant of Poe, here takes things a level higher—producing fiction in the tradition of Henry James.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679781387
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 362,673
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick McGrath was born in London and grew up near Broadmoor Hospital, where for many years his father was a medical superintendent.  He is the author of Blood and Water and Other Tales, The Grotesque, Spider, and Dr. Haggard's Disease, and he was the co-editor, with Bradford Morrow, of The New Gothic.  He lives in New York City and London and is married to the actress Maria Aitken.

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Read an Excerpt


The catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years now. Such relationships vary widely in duration and intensity but tend to pass through the same stages. Recognition. Identification. Assignation. Structure. Complication. And so on. Stella Raphael's story is one of the saddest I know. A deeply frustrated woman, she suffered the predictable consequences of a long denial collapsing in the face of sudden overwhelming temptation. And she was a romantic. She translated her experience with Edgar Stark into the stuff of melodrama, she made of it a tale of outcast lovers braving the world's contempt for the sake of a great passion. Four lives were destroyed in the process, but whatever remorse she may have felt she clung to her illusions to the end. I tried to help but she deflected me from the truth until it was too late. She had to. She couldn't afford to let me see it clearly, it would have been the ruin of the few flimsy psychic structures she had left.

Stella was married to a forensic psychiatrist called Max Raphael and they had a son, Charlie, aged ten when all this happened. She was the daughter of a diplomat who'd been disgraced in a scandal years before. Both her parents were dead now. She was barely out of her teens when she married Max. He was a reserved, rather melancholy man, a competent administrator but weak; and he lacked imagination. It was obvious to me the first time I met them that he wasn't the type to satisfy a woman like Stella. They were living in London when he applied for the position of deputy superintendent. He came down for an interview, impressed the board and, more important, impressed the superintendent, Jack Straffen. Against my advice Jack offered him the job, and a few weeks later the Raphaels arrived at the hospital. It was the summer of 1959 and the Mental Health Act had just been passed into law.

This is a desolate sort of a place, though God knows it's had the best years of my life. It is maximum-security, a walled city that rises from a high ridge to dominate the surrounding country: dense pine forest to the north and west, low-lying marshland to the south. It is built on the standard Victorian linear model, with wings radiating off the main blocks so that all the wards have an unobstructed view across the terraces to the open country beyond the Wall. This is a moral architecture, it embodies regularity, discipline, and organization. All doors open outward to make them impossible to barricade. All windows are barred. Only the terraces, descending by flights of stone steps to the perimeter wall at the foot of the hill, and planted with trees, grassy banks, and flower gardens, soften and civilize the grim carceral architecture standing over them.

The deputy superintendent's house is just a hundred yards from the Main Gate. It is a large dark house of the same gray stone as the hospital, set back from the estate road and hidden by pine trees. It was much too big for the Raphaels, having been built at a time when doctors came with large families and at least two servants. For several years before their arrival it had stood empty, and the garden was neglected and wild. To my surprise Max took an immediate interest in its rehabilitation. He had the goldfish pond at the back of the house cleaned out and restocked, and the rhododendron bushes around the edge of the lawn cut back and made to flower.

The project that most interested him however was the restoration of an old conservatory at the far end of the vegetable garden. This was a large ornate glasshouse built in the last century for the cultivation of orchids and lilies and other delicate tropical plants. In its time it had been an imposing, airy structure, but when Max and Stella arrived it was in a state of such disrepair there was talk of pulling it down. Much of the glass was broken and what panes remained were thick with dust and cobwebs. The paintwork had flaked off and the woodwork in places was rotted and splitting. Birds had nested inside it, mice and spiders had made their home there, weeds had sprouted through the cracks in the stone floor.

But Max Raphael had an affection for all things Victorian, and the exotic architecture of this garden conservatory, with its intricate glazing and joinery, and the graceful Romanesque arches of its windows, all this gave him peculiar delight. He was fortunate that among the hospital's parole patients was a man confident that he could do the work of restoring the conservatory. This was the sculptor Edgar Stark.

Edgar was one of mine. I have always been fascinated by the artistic personality, I think because the creative impulse is so vital a quality in psychiatry; certainly it is in my own clinical work. Edgar Stark was already influential in the art world when he came to us, though what we first saw was a confused and very shaky man who shuffled into the hospital like a wounded bear and sat hunched on a bench for hours with his head in his hands. He intrigued me from the start, and once I'd settled him down and got him talking I discovered him to be a forceful individual with an original mind, and I also realized that he was possessed of considerable charm, when he chose to use it. He and I quickly came to enjoy a warmly combative relationship, which I encouraged, up to a point; I wanted him to feel he had a special relationship with his doctor.

At the same time I was wary of him, for his was a restless, devious intelligence. He was quick to grasp the workings of the hospital and always alert to his own interest. I knew I could rely on him to exploit any situation to his own advantage.

Oddly enough I saw him with Stella only once, and that was at a hospital dance, a year after the Raphaels arrived here and just three weeks after he began working for Max in his garden, around the beginning of June. Dances are important events in the hospital calendar and there is always much excitement beforehand. They take place in the Central Hall, a spacious high-ceilinged room in the Administration Block with a stage at one end, a line of pillars down the middle, and casement windows opening onto the top terrace. Soft drinks and sandwiches are spread on long trestle tables at the back, and the band sets up onstage. Parole patients from both the male and female wings of the hospital may attend, and for this one evening they and the staff become an extended family without distinction of rank or status.

This at least is the idea. The truth is, the mentally ill are not at their best at a dance. Our patients dress eccentrically and move awkwardly, handicapped as much by the medication they take as by the illnesses that make the medication necessary. Despite the energetic efforts of the hospital band, and the contrived high spirits of the staff, I have always found it a poignant affair, and attend out of duty rather than in anticipation of any pleasure. That night, as I watched the proceedings from the shadow of a pillar at the rear of the Hall, I was not surprised to see Edgar Stark approach the deputy superintendent's wife, nor to see her step out onto the floor with him. The band went into something quick and Latin and she darted away in his arms.

Until recently I didn't learn precisely what happened next. Perhaps I should have guessed that something was wrong, for I noticed her becoming slightly flushed. I watched them move briskly across the floor, passing directly in front of the superintendent's table, and it is only now that I recognize just how bold, and bald, and reckless was the insult Edgar flung in our faces that night.

The dance ended promptly at ten and the patients filed out noisily. Jack asked those of his senior staff remaining in the Hall to come back for a drink. I strolled along the top terrace with Max, both of us in dinner jackets and both smoking good cigars as we chatted about various of our patients. The sky was clear, the breeze warm, and the world spread beneath us, the terraces, the Wall, the marsh beyond, all was dim and still in the moonlight.

Stella's voice drifted clearly back to us on the warm night air. Oh, I have known many elegant and lovely women, but none matched Stella that night. She was in a low-cut black evening dress of coarse ribbed silk, an exquisite grosgrain I had never seen before. The neckline was square and showed the curve of her breasts. It clung to her body then belled from the waist, scooped in a fold over each knee like a tulip, with a split between. She was wearing very high heels and a wrap thrown loosely about her shoulders. She was asking Jack about her last dance partner, and as I heard my patient's name I glimpsed again in my mind's eye the shuffling men and women in their ill-fitting clothes, something subtly askew about all of them except him.

Jack was standing at the end of the terrace, holding open the gate for Max and me. Stella was clearly amused at the sight of two consultant psychiatrists in dinner jackets hurrying so as not to keep their superintendent waiting. A minute or two later we were in the Straffens' drawing room and the phone was ringing. It was the chief attendant, to tell the super that everyone was present and accounted for and the hospital was safely locked up for the night.

I am not a gregarious man, and at social gatherings I tend to stay in the background. I let others come to me, it is a privilege of seniority. I stood by the window in the Straffens' drawing room and murmured small talk to the wives of my colleagues as they each in turn drifted over. I watched Stella listening to Jack tell a story about something that had happened at a hospital dance twenty years before. Jack liked Stella for the same reasons I did, for her wit, her composure, and her striking looks. I know she was considered beautiful: her eyes were much remarked on, and she had a pale, almost translucent complexion and thick blond hair, almost white, cut rather short, which she brushed straight back off her forehead. She was rather a fleshy, full-breasted woman, taller than the average, and that night she was wearing a single string of pearls that nicely set off the whiteness of her neck and shoulders and bosom. In those days I considered her a friend, and often wondered about her unconscious life. I asked myself was there peace and order beneath that demure exterior, or did she simply control her neuroses better than other women? A stranger, I reflected, would take her self-possession for aloofness, or even indifference, and in fact when she first arrived at the hospital she encountered resistance and hostility for this very reason.

But most of the women accepted her now. She had made an effort to join several of the hospital committees and generally to pull her weight as senior staff wives are supposed to. As for Max, he stood there with his glass of dry sherry, listening with a half-smile of slightly distracted indulgence as various horror stories were told by the women about their misadventures on the dance floor with patients of such clumsiness that they put last year's plodders and stampers to shame.

Stella did talk about Edgar Stark that night, but not to the company at large, and certainly without any mention of what he'd done in the Hall. It was when she reached my side that she told me the man danced like a dream-wasn't he a patient of mine?

Oh yes, he was one of mine all right. I suppose it was with a sort of affectionate cynicism that I said this, for I seem to remember that she peered at me closely as though it were important.

"He works in the garden," she said. "I often see him. I won't ask you what you think of him, because I know you won't tell me."

"As you saw yourself," I protested. "An extroverted man, well liked, and possessed of a certain, oh, animal vitality."

"Animal vitality," said Stella. "Yes, he has that all right. Is he very sick?"

"Pretty sick," I said.

"You wouldn't know it," she said, "from talking to him."

She turned and glanced at the party, the little clusters of those old familiars, each one distinct and idiosyncratic as tends to be the case in psychiatric communities. "We are more eccentric than the general population, aren't we?" she murmured, her eyes on the crowd.


"Max says psychiatry attracts people with high anxiety about going mad."

"Max must speak for himself."

This elicited a sidelong glance from those large sleepy eyes.

"I noticed you didn't dance once," she said.

"You know I'm hopeless at this sort of thing."

"But the ladies enjoy it so. You should, for their sake."

"How saintly you're becoming, my dear."

At this she turned and gazed at me. She hitched up the strap of her dress, which had slipped off her shoulder. "Saintly?" she said, and I saw Max looking in our direction, absently polishing his spectacles, his mournful demeanor faltering not a jot. She noticed him too and, turning away, murmured, "And my reward, I suppose, will be in heaven."

Later that evening I returned to my office to write up my observations. I had been impressed with Edgar's behavior. Watching him dance with Stella it was hard to believe that he suffered a disorder involving severe disturbance in his relationships with women. He had been a working sculptor for some years before he came to us, and was, as such, subject to the unique pressures that a life in art imposes. About a year before his admission he became obsessed with the idea that his wife, Ruth, was having an affair with another man. By all accounts Ruth Stark was a quiet, sensible woman; she modeled for Edgar and supported him financially much of the time. But as a result of his wild and violent accusations the marriage became severely strained and she threatened to leave him.

One night after they'd been drinking there was a terrible quarrel and he bludgeoned her to death with a hammer. What he did to her after that indicated to us how very disturbed he was. No one came to help Ruth Stark though her screams were heard the length of the street. Edgar was in a profound state of shock when he reached us. I tidied him up and then prepared to see him through the inevitable reaction of grief and guilt. But to my concern there was no grief or guilt; he regained his equilibrium after a few weeks and was soon involved in a variety of hospital activities.

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Interviews & Essays

March 1998

Before the live chat, Patrick McGrath agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q:  Who would you consider your literary influences?

A:  My strongest influences are probably John Hawkes and Edgar Allan Poe. Also Melville, Conrad, and Waugh, Iris Murdoch, the Brontes, John Banville, and Peter Carey.

Q:  Did growing up near Broadmoor Hospital influence your writing career? How did it influence your writing of Asylum?

A:  Growing up near Broadmoor provided me with a deep imaginative reservoir of knowledge of, and fascination with, psychiatry and insanity. This I was unaware of until I began writing fiction, since when I have exploited it ruthlessly. The architecture and society of Broadmoor I replicated as faithfully as I could in ASYLUM. The story came from a hint of a scandal I heard of as a boy. The characters are all my own.

Q:  What was it like growing up the son of a medical superintendent?

A:  Being the son of a superintendent is a demanding business, as superintendents tend to be strong, authoritative figures. My father taught me much about his work that has proved invaluable to me as a writer. At the same time his expectations of me were high, which was a great spur and an antidote to sloth.

Q:  Do you enjoy splitting your time between New York City and London? Do you have a preference?

A:  New York has been my home since 1981. I learned to write here and have many friends in the city. I love New York. I am beginning to see the point of London, and live there happily during the summers. But nothing can touch that first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline as you come roaring in from JFK.

Q:  Have you read anything within the past couple of months that you would highly recommend?

A:  I would always recommend very highly Denis Johnson's new book, Already Dead: A California Gothic, which I consider a masterpiece. Other good recent reads: Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly, Night Train by Martin Amis, and No Lease On Life by Lynne Tillman.

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, author biography, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Patrick McGrath's Asylum. We hope they will inspire new ways of looking at this mesmerizing and suspenseful novel of madness and erotic obsession by the internationally acclaimed author of The Grotesque.

1. Stella thinks Edgar "was guilty of a crime of passion; and passion, in essence, was good, surely?" [p. 17]. "With Stella it was always the heart, the language of the heart" [p. 29]. Peter Cleave classifies Stella as a romantic. Is Stella a romantic? If so, what does her subsequent behavior indicate about romanticism?

2. "As a psychiatrist I wasn't in the business of moral judgments" [p. 21], Peter says, and he later tells Stella, "It's only when we feel pain, or the prospect of it, that we start to make distinctions between right and wrong" [p. 148]. Is Peter correct? What does he reveal about himself in making this statement?

3. Peter believes that Stella's behavior is linked to a desire to hurt Max. "Perhaps that's the whole point about infidelity, I suggested, not that one has sex but that by doing so one puts at risk someone else's happiness?" [p. 34]. How much of Stella's behavior springs from hostility and hate? To what degree is passionate, romantic love inspired by hate or aggression?

4. "Most of us are dying of chronic neglect!" Stella says [p. 48], referring to wives in general and herself in particular. Is Max really neglectful of Stella? What makes her believe that she is being neglected and taken for granted?

5. Discussing Edgar's condition, paranoia, with Stella, Jack says "we don't really know how to treat them. Because we don't really understand what they are." [p. 72] Is he talking about his patients, she wondered, or women? Why does Stella think this at this time? What is the cause of her anger? Is Stella resentful at being a woman in a male community?

6. What is Stella's reaction when Jack tells her that Edgar had decapitated his wife and taken her eyes out? What does this reaction say about her, her motivations, her state of mind?

7. The action of Asylum takes place over the course of exactly one year. Why does the author present the story in this way? How do the seasons, and the change of seasons, affect Stella's thoughts and emotions?

8. What can you deduce about Max's feelings for Stella from the way the story is told? Does he act from love, from hate, from a mixture of the two? Do you find Max a sympathetic character, or do you agree with Stella that he is cold and sexually indifferent to her?

9. Stella tells Peter that during the early days of their romance she and Edgar experienced "a breakdown of their separate egos, a falling away of personality, a sense of identity, a sense that they were essence to essence..." [p. 78]. Do you believe that Edgar experienced this in the same way?

10. We see Brenda principally from Stella's point of view. Is she actually as unpleasant a character as Stella finds her to be? What purpose does she serve in helping to understand Stella?

11. How does Stella define the term "freedom"? When she claims to be seeking freedom, what does she mean? Is the sort of freedom she craves really possible? Does she ever find it?

12. How would you characterize the relationship between Stella and Charlie, and how does it change during the course of the novel? Does she behave as a typical mother? How does her erratic behavior toward Charlie in Wales illuminate the deterioration of her psyche?

13. "Was she really so blind to the danger she had placed herself in?" Peter asks himself. "Had she learned nothing from living among psychiatrists?" [p. 95]. What do you think: is she really blind, or does she choose to be so? Or does she willingly court danger, and if so, to what end? In her dealings with Edgar, do you find that Stella deliberately provokes him to violence?

14. What motivates Nick, very much at his own risk, to shelter Edgar from the law and, ultimately, to shelter Stella from Edgar? Do you believe that he enjoys the element of danger that his actions provoke? Do you think that he loves Stella? Or that it is Edgar he loves

15. Why does Max take Stella back after her return from London, and why does she decide to stay with him? Why does Max decline to tell Stella that Edgar might have made his way to Wales [pp. 184-85]?

16. Why does Stella allow Charlie to drown? Might his death be beneficial to achieving her desires? Does she really imagine that it is Edgar she sees sinking beneath the waves? Does Peter believe her when she makes this claim, or does he imply that she is lying?

17. "You had to explain it. . . either she was a monster or she was mad" [p. 202]. Peter decides to believe in her madness: "a classic Medea complex" [p. 211]; Max adopts a more theological outlook, positing the reality of good and evil: "She should be in prison" [p. 228]. Which man do you agree with? Is Stella evil, or merely misguided?

18. Edgar "idealized" Stella, Peter claims, "and then had to struggle against the chaos of his own passions when the image he'd created could no longer be sustained. I think perhaps it's what he was unconsciously trying to get at in his last sculpture, despite his claim to be engaged in an attempt to overthrow habit and convention in seeing" [p. 253]. Do you find this connection between Edgar's art and his feelings to be a plausible one?

19. As the novel progresses, Peter reveals more and more of his character, his will, and his motivations to the reader. Just how unambitious or ambitious is he? What are his real feelings toward Stella? What are his feelings toward Edgar? How far has he succeeded in manipulating the action, and the characters? What does the last sentence of the novel suggest?

20. Why do you think McGrath has chosen "Asylum" as the title for his book? What are the two meanings of the word, and are they connected or contradictory? At home with Max, Stella thinks of the asylum as a prison; frightened and penniless in London, she remembers it as a "misty mental realm where the sun always shone and order prevailed...a castle keep on a rocky ridge, and within its walls security and plenty" [p. 117]. In your opinion, what is the real character of the asylum?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 41 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    slow paced but...

    Asylum is a slow paced novel about the sexual obsessiveness of Stella and the consequences it has on the lives surrounding hers. I found I cared nothing for the characters and I very much disliked Stella, the main character. It's hard to care much about a book if you don't like the people who inhabit it's pages. Asylum is a slow paced book with not much happening on the outside. The book follows more closely the happenings on the inside of the characters, what they are thinking and feeling emotionally. There are a couple of things about Asylum I like. One is the descriptive scenery, especially when Stella and her husband move to a country house in Wales. The other is when Stella goes to live with the escaped mental patient Edgar (who murdered his wife in a psychotic rampage) and he starts to turn on her. She starts to see the side of Edgar who is imbalanced and brutal and it gives the novel some much needed suspense. Will Stella survive Edgar's psychosis? Can she mend her marriage with Max? Will her 10 year old son Charlie forgive the mother who walked out on their family? This novel is about obsession, guilt, forgiveness and what it truly means to seek asylum.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2004

    An eloquent and quite amazing book

    McGrath's prose is incredible; quiet, elegant and lovely, all the while relating a tale of horrible madness and misjudgement. This book floats along lovingly, wraping you up in the beauty of the words and the increasingly compeling mystery surrounding a beautiful woman (the wife of the deputy superintendant of an instutution for the criminally insane) and her sexual obsession with a dangerous patient. You experience all her feelings as she traps herself in her obsession, and horror and revulsion as the tragedies that inevitably are the result of such an obsession do in fact occur. McGrath has a real grasp of the female mind; a talent highly unusual for a male author. Asylum is literary psychological horror at it's best (the terms literary and horror usually being mutually exclusive). I just finished it for the second time and am still overwhelmed by the story, and the author's abilities. A must read. Period.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2000

    worth checking out

    This book flowed a little too slow at times but the author's writing style was very good and that is what kept me reading. I get very tired of books which leave you wondering about vague aspects of the story where vital information seems to be missing and this book did not leave me with that dilemma. Not an exciting read but very consistent. Definitely deserves a try. The book is written from the point of view of a psychiatrist who is finally given some personal definition in the final chapter of the book which made the ending rewarding to me.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2013

    I really want to give this book the full five stars, but I feel

    I really want to give this book the full five stars, but I feel like there was a bit missing. The entire plot and concept of the story was great. It started off a bit slow and I wasn't too sure where it was gonna go during the first 10 pages but it definitely caught me by surprise. The story's about a psychiatrist who lives on campus at a large asylum for the mentally ill. His wife (Stella) grows fond of one of the asylum's patients (Edgar). The book has everything it it from love to sex and even a bit of tragic scenes and disputes that keep you hooked. (Spoiler alert coming up) The only reason I didn't give it the full 5 stars was because I thought the story would of been far more interesting if it gave more depth to the way that Stella tries to cope with her depression towards her son and her life. Other than that, excellent read and highly recommended to anyone looking for a great read that's a bit twisted.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Suspenseful Psychological Thriller

    This is my first time reading a Patrick McGrath story. It will not be my last. I don't know how I haven't come across his work before, and I feel I have to catch up on all that I've missed out on.

    Normally, I finish a book and immediately pronounce to myself whether it was good or bad, and then I'm off to the next selection from my burgeoning bookshelves. It's been awhile, however, since I closed the pages of a story and had to sit and reflect for a few moments afterwards. Without question, this was an excellent book, and I needed more time to think on the very nature behind the story, the characters, and events. Needless to say, I brooded and ruminated on the ending for quite some time.

    Asylum, by Patrick McGrath has done all of this. It has all the elements of a story that I like -- a haunting setting in the gloomy and sweeping English countryside, a dark love affair, secrets, and ambiguity.

    Stella is the mother of a young boy, Charlie and the wife of Max, an esteemed psychiatrist at a maximum-security institution for the criminally insane just outside of London, England, in the late 1950s. Her day to day life of wife and mother is mundane, and her husband really doesn't have the drive or passion to keep her interested. Only a few patients are granted access to the grounds around the house on the institution, to work on the garden or to redo the old conservatory, with a watchful group of staff nearby. Unbeknownst to all, though, Stella becomes the lover of an incredibly dangerous patient, Edgar. He's quite an artist, but he's also destructively jealous -- his unending stay in the institution was determined because he killed his wife in a brutal and mutilating manner, apparently because she was seeing other men. Stella, however, still finds herself uncontrollably drawn to him and caught up in the passion of this bizarre love.

    This is an absolutely fascinating story and it is incredibly written, told through the perspective of another doctor at the institution, the older and wiser Dr. Peter Cleave. I initially thought I wouldn't care for this character, but I ultimately found that not only was it necessary in order to describe a general understanding of the mind -- the breakdown of Stella, the depth of manipulation by Edgar, and the ultimate weaknesses of Stella's husband, but it also explained the neurosis and psychosis of the characters. The insight Dr. Cleave provided was so critical to understand how these fictionalized people became completely devoid of reality only to succumb to the obsession everyone represses -- the ability to become thoroughly self-obsessed, whether or not it destroys innocent lives.

    With Peter telling the story, in some scenes almost clinically, it created a much more haunting feel and I felt completely entrenched in the story. Several times it seemed to intensify so sadly and in such a disturbing nature, that I couldn't fathom it to turn more grim than it already was, but the author was able to continue down that path even further. Peter provides a trusting credibility that lends quite a bit to the pleasure that I had in the twists that occurred. I was mortified, angry, heartbroken, and completely engrossed in the story.

    Patrick McGrath has created a suspenseful psychological thriller of obsession with oneself. It is haunting and dark, deeply erotic in some scenes, and altogether disturbing. Highly recommended, and I will be on the lookout for more Patrick McGrath books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2009

    Haunting and unnerving

    Brilliant and haunting, this beautifully and very skillfully written modern gothic romance is very effective. It gets under your skin like an infection (that's a compliment). The other reviewers and the book jacket blurbs give enough of a description of the book so I don't have to risk ruining it for you. Whatever you do, DO NOT READ THE REVIEW IN THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW by Michael Wood published February 23, 1997. He gives away a very important plot development in his review. The daily NY Times review makes a valid point (which I picked up on before I read the review) that there is a disturbing similarity between Asylum and Lady Chatterly's Lover at the beginning and then Asylum heads off in its own very unique direction. If you've read Lady Chatterly's Lover, then you have to read Asylum.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2005

    I Couldn't Put It Down!

    This book was excellent!!! I read it cover to cover in one sitting because I could not put it down! I loved the terror of it, yet it had a charming love story. It was anything but simple...amazingly put together. I wonder if there is any truth to it (I heard a very similar news report to this - with minor adjustments to the story).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2004

    What a discovery!

    This was my first foray into McGrath's world and what a delicious pleasure. This was one of the best books I've read. Both moving and incredibly suspensful. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good literary read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2014

    reading this book is like watching a movie, very fast pace and e

    reading this book is like watching a movie, very fast pace and easy to read. This would be a great movie to make if there isn't one already. Not a scary book, more passionate than scary.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013


    The poor puppy! Your freaking me out! But its amazing!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013


    YOU ( must write more)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013


    Spooky and awesome!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013


    Keep it up. Very creepy but very good. You're a very talented writer.<p>&#9825KHfan4ever&#9825

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    Love cats not that much a fan of dogs

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    Imma go cry now. Poor puppy! Im not gonna sleep 2nite! Imma keep my own dog right by my side, and make sure her head is on tight. XD great story, totes continue!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    Dang. That's some scary shtuff. Your writing style, with little dialogue and lots of description is perfect for the story genre. Excellent work!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    Omigosh. Scary but AWEdome!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    I awoke the next morning to the usual routine, breakfast, get dressed, get on the bus. I was still shaken from the night before. I nearly missed the bus as I tried to figure out what it was that scared me so badly. <br>
    Thus, another boring, seven hour day of mathematics, language arts, phys ed, lunch, spanish, science, and social studies. I told my closest friend, Matt, about what I had seen. <br>
    "What do you think it was, a demon... or worse?" I asked. <br>
    "You're over reacting. You were probably tired and your mind got the best of you." Replied Matt. <br>
    Of course he didn't believe me, who would? <br>
    The day ended as usual at two o'clock in the afternoon. Halfway home the sky clouded up and it began to rain. I got to my house fairly quickly, as my bus driver was nice enough to take me up to my house. I let myself in. As usual, I was home alone with our dog, Sparkey- <br>
    Speaking of our dog, where was he. He wouldn't be outside in a storm. I checked all the rooms thoroughly. Lastly I came to my bedroom. Again, the window was open and rain was puddling under it. I shut it and went downstairs to get the mop and a bucket to clean it up. I walked back upstairs to my room and bent over to mop up the water. Upon finishing my cleaning, I stood and looked out the window, but what was on the window was what caught my attention. I couldn't help but stand there and stare at the three letters etched on it. <br>
    "YOU" was written on the glass in blood mixed with dog hair. <br>
    I dropped the bucket and ran downstairs. In a panic I called the police and told them what I had seen. Then I called my dad's office but all the lines were busy. The police showed up and interrogated me for all that I had seen. After the rain stopped thirty minutes later, three search and rescue workers were sent into the woods to find our dog. But the creepiest thing of all... <br>
    ...was that they only found the head. I knew what happened to the body. It was a meal for the guardian. I didn't tell that to the police, they wouldn't believe me... Who would?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013


    Con. Tin. Ue.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2013

    Am i crazy

    I always see things nobody believes me. i saw a monster and it tried to kill my sister and i tried to kill it but now everyone thinks i tried to kill my sister. Please i know there is someone that believes me. Help

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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