Asylum by Isobel Blackthorn
(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)
** I was provided an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.**
Isobel Blackthorn writes well and in the end I really enjoyed this book. I want you to read that first, because I’m about to tell you that I really didn’t like the main character.
I struggled initially with this novel, mainly because I felt no empathy with the main character, Yvette. Let there be no misunderstanding, Yvette is a well written character – so believable that I developed a dislike for her.
Yvette has experienced tragedy in childhood - a broken home and a violent father who ultimately leaves. She comes to Australia, on a tourist visa, to escape a relationship with a charismatic criminal she met in Malta. Once here she decides she wants to remain in the country.
Apart from her childhood, Yvette’s disasters in life are largely self-inflicted. When the reader first meets her she is self-centred, wallowing in self-pity, unable to define herself without a man in her life and looks on the lives of others with derision. Yvette’s characterisation is excellent and I disliked her so much I wanted to stop reading.
It is a testament to Blackthorn’s writing that I continued. Slowly, I could see the character evolving and I really wanted to find out how she would grow. Blackthorn takes a character with no personal insight and transforms her into a woman who begins to recognise her own folly and view those around her with more compassion. Yvette is a far more likeable character at the end of the novel than at the beginning. This transformation is done in an entirely believable way and, in the end, it was this that I really enjoyed about the book – the characters.
Blackthorn weaves a lovely bunch of supporting characters into Yvette’s life – each with their own tangled little histories and tragedies. They are part of the catalyst for Yvette’s transformation and serve to show the myriad of ways people cope with their past in contrast to how Yvette deals hers.
The only negative for me was that I found some sections of the narrative jarring. Commentary on the woeful predicament and fate of the asylum seekers in Australia came across as being the author’s voice rather than the character’s. I felt this could have been better integrated into the story. In fact, I felt there was unexplored potential in this regard.
This is a novel that many will love. It is a tale of young woman learning to deal with her past, discovering her own worth and finding the strength to carve out a new place in the world.
I ended up not being able to put it down until I had finished.