The Whore's Asylum

     

    The name of this novel is a bit off-putting; I experienced side glances from fellow commuters when reading it on the train like some non-Kindle readers of ‘Fifty Shade of Grey’ may do. Surprisingly, however, ‘The Whores’ Asylum’ does not include any directly kinky scenes despite focusing on that taboo subject of Victorian Britain; prostitution.

     

    The book itself is a wonderful thing to read. It is a larger size of novel, with a textured cover and (hallelujah) pictures! It evokes Dickens and Collins in its style but it is more accessible than the often exhaustive commentaries of these comprehensive Victorian writers. Kate Darby clearly carried out a great deal of research and her narrative voice ticks all of the nineteenth-century boxes.

     

    ‘The Whores’ Asylum’ comprises of various personal accounts, which collectively piece together the mystery surrounding the central and controversial woman, Anna Sadler. It is a rollercoaster of a journey through the dark, diseased, immoral and misogynist world of Victorian Britain.

     

     The tale encircles Anna, a young and mysterious woman who establishes a refuge for Victorian prostitutes. Anna faces much opposition from male characters. In particular, Edward Fraser and Stephen Chapman, a vicar and a scientist, debate over the ethics that this asylum represents, along with Anna’s own somewhat shady past. The three find themselves inextricably linked in their search for happiness and morality.

     

    Whilst the novel is well researched, authentic in narrative voice and thoroughly gripping, the characters are not greatly developed. It is difficult to warm to Anna, Edward or Stephen and none of them can be trusted, as the characters themselves find.

     

    The one character that stands out is Sukey, a feisty prostitute with a venereal disease. Sukey is utterly believable; she’s described as having a ‘Cockney quickness that made her a popular novelty among the students, just as they might be amused by a mischievous monkey or a talking dog’, yet she sacrifices herself for her friends’ safety. She appears halfway through the book and it is at this point that the book really picks up speed.

     

     If you’re looking for a thrill-read then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for something of a similar subject but with a little more substance, Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ is best. Whilst Darby’s novel is well researched, Faber’s book could be the novel Dickens never wrote and his characters are entirely human. Both are worth reading, but ‘The Crimson Petal’ would be my choice if I were stranded on a desert island.

     

    Reviewed by Lucy Richards, an English Literature graduate who consumes books almost as fast as 400g slabs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I blog, I read and I drink tea as I stumble my way through life. I am, in a nutshell, Jane Eyre in training.

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