A Historical Dive into 19th-Century Asylum Life

The Madwomen of Paris takes us back to 19th-century France, focusing on Laure Bissonet, a talented artist. After her father’s death leaves her homeless and in debt, Laure has a breakdown and ends up in the hysteria ward of the Salpêtrière asylum. As she recovers, Laure works as a resident ward attendant and takes on the responsibility of caring for Josephine, a patient who the asylum’s famous director uses in hypnosis demonstrations. Laure plots their escape from the oppressive institution.

The novel vividly depicts the struggles women faced in a society that often labeled them mad for defying norms. It highlights the 19th-century obsession with hysteria and the dangerous treatments used on patients. If I had lived in Paris back then, they would have locked me up for my depression and anxiety. How horrifying!

It’s fascinating to read about what doctors thought caused “hysteria.” They believed the uterus roamed around the body and could be put back in place with pleasing smells. Ridiculous, right?

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me. My eyes glazed over, and my mind constantly wandered as I read. It was so dull. I wish the author had written it from the point of view of one or more of the patients, which would have been more powerful.

The author clearly did her research, which is a positive, but her writing didn’t impress me. She went off on tangents, and the lesbian theme felt unnecessary to the plot. I thought this would be a terrific book on a subject I hadn’t yet explored, but it was just terrible. My apologies to the author.

2 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book. The opinions are my own.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Literature, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .