Sunday, May 10, 2020

Book Review: 'asylum' by Carly Rheilan

asylum by Carly Rheilan

‘It was obviously pigeaters’ work’

British author Carly Rheilan was born in Malta and lives in the UK. She gained her education both from Oxford University and Brunel from which technological university she earned her PhD. She is psychiatric nurse and has done research into criminal justice, taught in universities, and has worked many years in the NHS. Carly incorporates this experience in writing novels that address issues at the edges of psychiatry, crime and personal trauma. 

ASYLUM tells the story of Cabdi, the survivor of a massacre, and Mustaf, a trafficked child. She has written three other books – CATS CRADLE tells the story of a relationship between a child and a paedophile, BIRTHRIGHTS is a story about a childless psychiatrist seeking a fraudulent motherhood, and THE ANGEL explores medical homicide.

Carly’s ability to magnetize the reader’s attention begins with the cover art and continues with the opening paragraphs of this very disturbing, excellent novel. ‘Cabdi was not sure whether anyone else – even if they had sat beside him on the roof of the Villa – would have seen the hand groping from the earth. Cabdi had always seen things that others couldn’t. He could see through the curtain of daylight into another world, out of time. He could see his ancestors, his dead family and the faces of people not yet born. Even as a child, long ago, there had been whispering faces in the hot air, in another country. He understood the reason. He had been chosen by spirits. Bt the hand reaching up through dirt on that day, its fingers clutching at nothing, seemed to belong quite solidly to earth. It protruded through a jumble of rubble in a hole that should not have been there, in the carpark that was now used as a playground, near the door to Villa Six where Caldi had once been held. Its presence – a living hand not attached in any visible way to a body – was a violation But it did not seem supernatural…The Villas had been annexes to the Parkhill Institute, a Victorian asylum, set in large grounds with an imposing boundary wall. The main hospital at the top of the site was visible from the bus-route, and from the upper deck, looking through the trees, I might have been taken for a country mansion or a minor public school. But in the little English town, everyone knew what it was. ‘ Cabdi is from Somalia. 

The story unfolds – ‘The child’s hand groping out of the earth is undoubtedly real. As real as Cabdi’s own hand, when it lay on the earth after the machete fell, long ago. But this hand is alive. And it isn’t in a war-zone. It’s in the playground of a school, just outside the grounds of the English psychiatric hospital where Cabdi is now held. And the man who is stamping on the moving hand is a pigeater. Pigeaters are in charge of everything. As an accidental asylum seeker, Cabdi is friendless in a country he does not know. He cannot speak English. But he knows that he should not have gone into the playground. He should not have seen the hand in the earth. And whatever lies behind this, it is not his war. He walks away. Why should the crime have a witness, anyway?’

Tense, very dark, but securely written by an author about whom we most assuredly will be hearing more. A fascinating, disturbing book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.