If you’re judging a book by its cover, ‘Asylum’ by Madeleine Roux promises a creepy thrill ride. With chilling cover art and pages complemented by black-and-white photos of asylums, ‘Asylum’ attempts to follow in the footsteps of novels like ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,’ which uses vintage photos to tell the story.
Unfortunately, it fails to measure up.
The book’s main draw, according to the summary on Amazon.com, is that “Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” However, calling ‘Asylum’ a “photo-novel” would be doing ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ an injustice. ‘Asylum’ is less of a photo-novel, and more of a novel with photos.
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ was written by building a plot from vintage photos. The photos created the narrative of the novel. ‘Asylum’ uses the photos like museum exhibits. The photographs are creepy, chilling and tragic, considering the dark history of mental asylums throughout most of history.
However, ‘Asylum’ doesn’t use them in a creative way. They’re simply there, offered up as disturbing images that are supposed to help give you a bit of history on the asylum where the characters are forced to sleep during summer camp. It uses the dark history of abuse and torture of mental patients as a bid for a cheap thrill. The author clearly did her research, but despite that, she doesn’t seem to have handled the subject with much sensitivity.
Not that the thrills aren’t enjoyable in a horror novel, or that the photographs aren’t effective in creating a creepy atmosphere. It would be better if they weren’t the best part of the book. No amount of vintage photos, no matter how disturbing, can cover up lackluster writing.
The bland writing hides behind the creepy photographs, relying on them to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, photographs can’t carry a book. If you want to look at disturbing images of mental asylums, pick up a history book or go online — don’t read ‘Asylum.’ There’s nothing wrong with the writing; everything is correct. However, it’s just not good writing. It’s staid and unimaginative. It doesn’t bring the characters to life or even come close to creating the chills delivered by the photographs.
Anyone can put photos in a novel, but that doesn’t make it a photo-novel. Ultimately, ‘Asylum’ is mildly entertaining, with an interesting plot if you can get past the clunky writing. However, it’s hard not to see this as a ‘Miss Peregrine’ knockoff.