Author: Victoria Mas
Published by: Overlook Press on Sep. 7, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: ARC, Paperback
Source: Overlook Press
Book Rating: 8/10
A literary historical novel detailing the horrors faced by institutionalized women in 19th century Paris—soon to be a major film with Amazon Studios
The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated—these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball—the Madwomen’s Ball—when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpetriere dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Genevieve is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugenie—the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. Because Eugenie has a secret: she sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits, Eugenie is determined to escape from the asylum—and the bonds of her gender—and seek out those who will believe in her. And for that she will need Genevieve’s help . . .
Gothic, eerie, and dark!
The Mad Women’s Ball is a riveting, gritty tale set in Paris in the mid-1880s at a time when the city was bustling, respectability meant everything, the esteemed Dr. Charcot was becoming infamous for his use of hypnotherapy in the treatment of hysteria in the young women and girls who were sent to The Salpêtrière Asylum by their male relatives, and the annual Mad Women’s Ball was a spectacle no member of the bourgeoisie wanted to miss.
There are three main memorable characters in this novel; Eugénie, a young woman whose prosperous family has her committed after she professes to be able to communicate with the dead; Louise, an inmate with dreams of being the next famous patient and the wife of an educated, junior doctor; and Geneviève, a hardworking nurse whose loyalty to the hospital beings to wane after events make her question the integrity of the people and practices employed there.
The prose is rich and ominous. The supporting characters are vulnerable, flawed, and tormented. And the plot is an insightful, menacing tale of life, loss, perseverance, survival, betrayal, abuse, patient exploitation, spiritualism, mental illness, and the roles of women in 19th century France.
Overall, The Mad Women’s Ball is a quick, intense, poignant read by Mas that does a beautiful job of interweaving historical facts and compelling fiction into a sinister, suspenseful tale that is exceptionally atmospheric and disturbingly entertaining.
This novel is available now.
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Thank you to Overlook Press – Abrams Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.