Book Review :: Asylum by Nina Shope
Guest Post by Stephanie Katz
Nina Shope’s Asylum is an entrancing, fictionized story of French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and his patient Augustine. In the novel — as in real life — Charcot puts Augustine’s “hysteria” on display in public demonstrations. Through his touch, Augustine’s body convulses and contorts in sexual poses in front of a crowd. The novel vacillates between both characters’ perspectives in a twisted dichotomy of torture and desire. Charcot resists his attraction to Augustine and obtrusively attempts to quantify her illness through hundreds of photographs and measurements: “My body broken down into strange sets of numbers until I barely recognize myself. Everything measured—the time it takes me to raise my arm, the angle of my eye, the number of steps until I find myself at your side.” Shope deftly uses second person POV to show Augustine’s conflicting feelings for Charcot: “I remember years when I could not tell you from me, when you sat inside me as surely as my bones, wearing me from the inside out…There was no part of me not filled by you. Infiltrated as a body is by disease.” Asylum will compel readers to discover Augustine’s fate and learn more about the people who inspired this darkly compelling novel.
Asylum by Nina Shope. Dzanc Books, 2022.
Reviewer bio: Stephanie Katz is a librarian, writer, and editor. She runs 805 Lit + Art and is the author of Libraries Publish: How to Start a Magazine, Small Press, Blog, and More (Libraries Unlimited, ABC-CLIO, 2021). She writes about creative library publishing at literarylibraries.org and lives on an island in Florida.