The darkest nights of the year are traditionally best spent with a good dark book, and Katy Darby’s debut novel The Whores’ Asylum is a perfect choice for those who like a stylish gothic story. But it’s more than just a bedtime read. The topic of sex trade and abuse of women is very current, what with the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo hitting the big screen afresh. The Whores’ Asylum is set in Victorian times, but deals with the same issues.
Told mostly in the voice of Edward Fraser, a former student at Oxford, the novel is structured as a memoir addressed to Fraser’s son. It starts with Edward’s first years as a graduate, when we meet the man who will become his best friend, a brilliant medical student Stephen Chapman. Reminiscent of the friendship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, this relationship will eventually become intense to the point of unbearable. As Chapman falls in love with the irresistible Diana, Fraser will do his best to protect his friend and their friendship, with the most shocking consequences.
While Fraser is obsessed with getting Diana as far away from his friend as possible, she is busy setting up an asylum for prostitutes where they can recover and get some support. But it is Diana herself who will need rescuing as her life becomes entangled with lies, abuse, secrets and misunderstandings. A villain duly appears, and in the end it will be up to Fraser to undo the harm he has caused.
Darby’s impeccable style is at the same time Victorian and current, which creates a strange but enjoyable impression of being transported back in time as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She is one of those authors that the reader would be curious to meet, even if it is just to see whether she does speak like that in real life.
Any Cop?: A classic gothic story with some very modern themes, it will keep its grip on you long after you finish reading it.