An exploration of madness in its many forms.
I’m not sure if this review will have spoilers so keep an eye out for those just in case. I borrowed this book from my friend Bree over @ DoYouEvenGeek months ago in an attempt to bring me from a reading slump. The cover was gorgeous featuring a young woman being pulled through wooden floorboards by hands rooted into the soil. A cover that vivid and descriptive offered a thrilling story and I secretly hoped it featured zombies.
The title, A Madness So Discreet, implies we’ll be exploring the main characters mental health. Confirmed as soon as we open the book and discover her inside of an insane asylum, however, the book also offers insight into the mental health of all of the characters including those otherwise deemed sane. Madness, explores society’s view on women and mental during the Victorian era in the US. A time when women had no rights and were property of the men who chose to claim them. The mistreatment of these women is also a recurring theme throughout the story line.
I absolutely loved the characters as well as the dialogue written for them. I laughed outwardly while reading on more than one occasion. Each character had multiple layers to them, no one person was simply sane or insane. Each had a history, a memory and a reason for being included which not only added depth and emotion to the story but also provided a cohesiveness to the book.
The character of Grace is written as a sort of anti-hero. Though she came to be in this predicament through no fault of her own it is her decisions that will change her fate, something I think Mindy McGinnis conveys perfectly. Grace’s spirit and reluctance to remain a victim make you cheer for her even during times when she seems to have succumb to the darkness. We read on past each new pitfall eagerly hoping she makes it into the light.
There seems to be an underlying power struggle with each character vying for control in one respect or another. Starting with Grace who was powerless to prevent years of abuse at the hands of her sadistic father, Thornhollow, eager to break through into a new realm of science where the mind is the new frontier down to Nell who merely wanted to choose her own fate instead of waiting for sickness to claim her. There is a more overarching need for secrecy or “Discretion” throughout the book also, without it freedom seems to be harder to grasp. Grace’s entire reason for being in the asylum in the first place is to keep her father’s indiscretions a secret, the revelation of her alleged botched procedure must be kept or it would cost Dr. Heedson his livelihood. And if Grace revealed to every one her true identity or the fact that she could speak her father would be able to find her and take her away. The characters in the asylum have the added motivation of seeking normalcy in a world viewed as abnormal something they accomplish while forging bonds within the asylum walls.
The story takes place in the 1800’s, the US of the Victorian era still heavily indoctrinated with European customs and social graces placed manners and etiquette in highest regard. Language was mostly English though, cockney is used for immigrants and others who couldn’t read as a symbol of their social class. During this time, it was considered improper for women seen as dainty and easily breakable to be in the face of murderers, brothels or bars. Women who were loud and exuberant were considered to have no class. Men were advised to watch how they spoke in front of women for fear of upsetting her delicate sensibilities. It’s also important to note that Grace spends most of her time feigning mute and so the absence of speech forces her to express herself in other ways.
A Madness So Discreet, is a great evaluation of the human condition. Each of the individuals in the story possess a trait if not several that would mark them as insane. Their actions in spite of their so called state of mind is what we, the audience determine throughout the book. Is Grace insane because she refuses to speak to people who would ignore her pleas for help either way? Or sane for knowing not to waste her strength and efforts on futile cries? Is Dr. Thornhollow sane because he can critically see into a person’s nature by analyzing a crime scene or is his lack of emotional connection and mechanized perspective signs of a true deviant? McGinnis leaves that decision up to us.
The symbolism in Grace’s scars is one of freedom. She is frequently described as being fairly attractive except for the fact that she now has scars on matching sides of her face. To others unknowing of her history those scars seem the greatest tragedy of her condition, however, to Grace those scars represent freedom and hope offering comfort and protection from scrutiny, a rescue from the shackles of abuse from her father. Grace’s scars became her most concealed weapon, easily hidden behind hair, when in full display they made her invisible to those who would usually ignore a crazy person.
My final thoughts are on the concept of the mind. This book tested the limits of what we would call acceptable and argued a sentiment that maybe we’re all a tad insane from time to time. Set during a dark time for mental health and the golden era of serial killers. Madness explores the psychology of men and offers a clear view at life in two separate mental institutions. The concept of mental health is not a black or white canvas meant to be easily ascertained by one’s social status and upbringing. Luckily for us all, we live in a time where this is no longer the case.
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What Series have you read with Eight books or more in it? Let me Know in the Comments Below!