"Straddling the bookshelves somewhere between psychological study, historical horror story, and fantasy fiction sits Emilie Autumn's debut autobiographical novel, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. Written and illustrated by Emilie Autumn, this chilling tale combines humor, tragedy, and suspense to produce a blood-curdling account of the nightmare that is life inside an insane asylum, comparing those from the Victorian era with our modern day version, and proving, through her own personal experiences, that not much has changed from then to now."
This is a rollercoaster of a read, especially for those who aren't familiar with the author herself. Emilie Autumn is a genre bending rock musician who can play a violin like nobody's business. I've had the pleasure of attending a few of her concerts and her stage shows are fantastic theatrical performances. Her writing is just as memorable. It's no surprise to hear she is presently composing and developing the Broadway musical and film versions of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls.
There are several different formats available for this book and each one is different in its own way: the original hardback edition, which is fully illustrated and quite lovely to behold; the paperback edition, which has been re-written with new characters and chapters; and the Kindle edition with interactive links and a real life treasure hunt. There is also an audiobook available.
I personally own the hardback, paperback and Kindle versions and spent considerable time going through them and looking over their differences before sitting down to write my review of the paperback edition. I think the paperback is better fleshed out than the original hardback edition, but it doesn't go as in depth on her personal diary entries.
The book begins with confessions from Emilie herself, covering her suicide attempt and being locked up in a maximum security psych ward, despite her protesting that she is not crazy and she has valid reasons for her actions.
The book covers the way she feels that they treat her as a criminal, heavily medicated her, stripping her of her freedoms and denying her outside communication. Her doctor begins to take an unhealthy interest in her and grows more predatory by the day. Emilie begins to keep a secret diary about the terrors she experiences in the hospital to help keep herself sane.
One day she opens her diary to find a letter from a young woman, imprisoned within an insane asylum in Victorian England and bearing her own name (only spelled differently) and physical description. This opens a fantasy portal to another world and, as these letters continue to appear, our Emilie is mentally drawn into another life in this alternate reality.
The story jumps back and forth from past to present, and the appalling things that both Emilie/Emily endure in their captivity. Both stories are interesting in their own way, but I really thought that the author did a fantastic job on the details of the Victorian side of the story. The characters and setting are very nicely fleshed out and draw you into the story. The crimes perpetrated on the women in the Asylum is both horrific and sadly realistic to the way it was back then.
This is no fairy tale book and there is no happily ever after to the story, but I believe it helps point out how far we've come in our mental healthcare system and how far we still have to go.
I enjoyed the read and would recommend it, but I understand that this book may not be everyone's cup of tea. For those who are fans of Emilie Autumn, it goes without saying that, whether you will like it or not, you will want to read it. Being a fan of hers and the child of a bipolar manic depressive, I related to a lot of the things she mentions in the book.
This story is inspired and based largely on Emilie's struggle with mental health issues, coping with suicide and the time she spent in a psych ward. How much you choose to believe happened and how much she envisioned to keep herself sane is up to you to decide. ~~ Dee Astell