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Asylum Piece and Other Stories

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  255 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
This collection of stories, mostly interlinked and largely autobiographical, chart the descent of the narrator from the onset of neurosis to final incarceration in a Swiss clinic. The sense of paranoia, of persecution by a foe or force that is never given a name, evokes The Trial by Kafka, a writer with whom Kavan is often compared, although her deeply personal, restrained ...more
Hardcover, 206 pages
Published February 1st 1984 by Michael Kesend Pub Ltd (first published 1940)
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Feb 04, 2013 s.penkevich rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: The interior self
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Proustitute
And it seems both strange and sad to me that all those childish years were spent in preparation for this – that, forgotten by everybody, with a beaten face, I should serve machinery in a place far away from the sun.

History has not been kind on those deemed mentally ill. As with any aberration from the social conventions of ‘normalcy’, or anything we do not fully understand, there is a tendency to reduce the outlying subject to being considered less than human – a technique used to assuage any
Apr 18, 2013 Mariel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the difficult inception of a smile
Recommended to Mariel by: Nate D
Shelves: my-love-life
My heart falls into my boots while I am speaking. I am plunged into despair because I see that neither of my hearers is capable of comprehending my appeal. I doubt if they are even listening to me. They do not know what it means to be sad and alone in a cold room where the sun never shines.

When she returns to the cold, foggy streets she belongs in as belief in a cruel God, unloving holder of the keys, she is returning and having never left. See the twisted smirk undisguised by the cold eyes in

Going off the rails on a crazy train…

What the heck happened to me? I used to be able to sit down & write my reactions to a book, make them have some relevance, make them mildly entertaining... Lately, I find myself with nothing to say.

Hello, Goodreads? Yeah, I’m phoning in another review…

I don’t know what to say about this novel. I’m still not sure if I loved it or felt ‘meh’ about it. But there were moments… Moments I will not forget. Like the birds outside the window, and the feeling of c
Arthur Graham
Jul 29, 2013 Arthur Graham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I'm like a birrrd, I'll only fly awaaay...

Anna Kavan's Asylum Piece,
as reviewed by Petey, the great tit

Interesting book, I'll give it that. The woman has a tendency to blather, that's for sure, but then so do I -- what with my incessant tweeting and twittering -- and as anyone prone to such diarrhea of the mouth (or beak) knows, sometimes it's necessary to talk a WHOLE lotta shit before coming to the point. If you wanna see a good example of this propensity on display, look no further than that
What a marvelous book - or better, how amazing that Kavan was able to get all these experiences down on paper. She manages, in what I suppose were her lucid moments, to chronicle her "descent into madness"; but that cliché is insufficient for this book. It's more like a calm, unpleasant journey - no screaming, no violence, just a bewilderment as events unfold and she finds herself incarcerated in an asylum in Switzerland.

Written as a collection of what first appear to be short stories, it become
Nate D
Mar 25, 2011 Nate D rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the mundanely afflicted
Recommended to Nate D by: quotidian manias
It's sort of amazing that Anna Kavan can write so coldy and so compassionately at the same time. Coldly because of the clinical observational detachment she's able to turn on herself, and compassionately because she's able to render insanity so believably and so sympathetically. It's never too hard to recognize why her characters have been institutionalized, but it's also completely obvious that only a hairs breath separates them from the usual fears, anxieties, obsessions, and uncertainties of ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To wait — only to wait — without even the the final merciful deprivation of hope.

Some authors start out messy and learn to edit. Some start out spare and airy and then gradually let their leaves unfurl. I'd place Anna Kavan in the latter category.

This novel was Kavan's first truly modernist piece and her first work published under that name. Told in a series of floating and fragmented vignettes, it feels crisp, chill and is, in fact, highly effective in conveying a sense of isolation. The remove
Feb 13, 2014 Larry rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, brain-pain
It's funny, somewhere in the middle of this collection I thought to myself, "sure I like her stories, but I'm not sure I'm going to join the cult of Kavan." How many stories of paranoia can I handle, but we all know "just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not after you." It is a cult right? I never heard of this mysterious writer until two of her volumes showed up on the "Brain Pain" reading list.

I kept thinking back to Jane Bowles, who (16 years her junior) was publishing around
May 09, 2010 Oscar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
'Asylum Piece', the debut collection of connected stories by Anna Kavan, was the first book by her that I've read. Originally looking for a nice edition of 'Ice', I managed to find this first, and decided to pick it up anyway.

A great decision, afterwards, as this modest volume contains a darkly dazzling collection of moody imaginative stories. As can be expected from the tile, Kavan's stories are dominated by themes of anxiety, neurosis, uncertainty, and gloomy moods. However, these grim psychol
Jul 30, 2015 Holly rated it really liked it
Anna Kavan is an author I only heard of this year (I believe Ice came up as a Goodreads recommendation). Unlike other GR users, I've chanced upon some wonderful discoveries from this oft-maligned feature. Of course, because I usually read books I think will educate me in the intricacies of human emotion and trauma, and will enlighten me on the vast spectrum of human experience, I tend to get good recs. That just sounded way more pretentious than I meant it to sound, but lately I've been subscrib ...more
Kavan's brief, lucid stories have the quality of remembered nightmares. The first work published under the name of Anna Kavan rather than Helen Ferguson, Asylum Piece - a patchwork of interlinked vignettes that could be considered a novel or a short story collection - is sometimes brilliant, but a little patchy. The title story, made up of eight mini-stories, is somewhat hit and miss - while it's the longest and most complete piece, it's also the only one to deviate from the first-person narrati ...more
Ben Loory
Oct 31, 2010 Ben Loory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a scary book from the frozen land of hopeless mental illness. it's hard to believe it was written in english; it reads like a pristine translation of something written on the other side of mars.

It's not as though the place has any special attractions. It is a house of no definite architectural design, half old, half new. The lines of the new part are straightforward and easily read like a sum in simple arithmetic; the old part is oblique, full of treacherous angles, with a roof that sags like th
Sep 09, 2009 M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, fiction
This isn't as wholly good as Julia and the Bazooka, but once we get to the titular pieces in the book (about the second half or so), this becomes wonderful. Kavan's language is both distanced and sensual, and her plots manage to isolate the protagonist while still retaining a sense of "aboutness" regarding the protagonist.
Nov 06, 2015 Chesway rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Moving & intriguing. Her words become the narrator in the back of your mind. A truly gifted writer.
15 years after reading this book, there are scenes still fresh in my memory, which can easily be pieced together.
If your current reality is nothing great to wake up to, this book is a good distraction.
If you're in a good mood currently, I don't suggest reading it, as there is a sombre tone which can penetrate into your current routine and leaving you feeling very melancholy.
Mar 18, 2013 pausetowonder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to pausetowonder by: s.penkevich
When he was reading this, s.penkevich gave us a quotation:

"And it seems both strange and sad to me that all those childish years were spent in preparation for this – that, forgotten by everybody, with a beaten face, I should serve machinery in a place far away from the sun."

That did it, I knew I had to read the book.

The back cover mentions Anna Kavan's mental illness, her breakdowns, time spent in a Swiss clinic, heroin addiction and also compares her to Kafka. Frankly, though true, I think this
Jan G
Jan 29, 2011 Jan G rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Forces working against the protagonist materializing out of nothing...reminds me at times of Kafka. I liked this collection a little more than I liked Julia and the Bazooka - though I do love the short story at the end of that collection after which the book is named. Perhaps it's a structural thing...I felt more solidity (?) perhaps... in these pieces? There's more of that "bottom dropping out from under ..." sort of feel in JATB... which I liked in the final story. Anyway, I liked reading this ...more
Stefan Novakovic
An incredible first half is let down by a much weaker second.
Хороший параноидальный модернизм, с сильным следом влияния Кафки (я сам-то Кафку не читал, но мальчики так говорят). Наверно ничего интересного, если бы не сравнительно редкая для меня тема психбольницы. С подобным антуражем я встречался только в произведении Кена Кизи "Над кукушкиным гнездом", но она вовсе не о психических лечебницам и психических заболеваниях. Мрачные предложения явственно передают ощущения психического разлада, в котором некто преследует, некто - враг, а приспешники его - дом ...more
Sep 30, 2014 Ronald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
From reading about the author, I got the sense that her fiction has a family resemblance to the dark fiction I've been interested in. So I decided to give her books a go: I got this book, and also her _Julia and the Bazooka_ from the public library.

Its mostly literary fiction, with some tendency toward the surrealistic and science fiction. This book is written in a highly readable style. Simple words and clarity of expression. Anna Kavan (which was a pen name) had a drug problem (heroin) and men
May 20, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kavan struggled with a heroine addiction along with events of hopelessness leading her to psychiatric institutions. Asylum Piece provides a collection of intimate writings of her time in an asylum. A bleak, poignant expose into her deepest thoughts, self-analysis in a plush tasteful prose.

I couldn't help but feel intrusive as I read Asylum Piece, a front row seat of her kaleidoscope of thoughts as her mind aimlessly wonders from paranoia with heavy ominous tones. Despite the disturbing natu
4.5 stars

Anna Kavan needs to be more widely read. She is very much a stylistic link between Woolf and Bowen, but perhaps the sheer unclassifiable nature of Kavans workand Im judging this solely on Asylum Piece and Ice as Ive not read more just yetis the cause for the other two writers being better known.

Kavan mixes autobiography, surrealism, dream, fantasy, reality, and speculative fiction all at once. Coupled with all of these meandering genres and subgenres in her thematics is a prose style th
Oct 13, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, reviews
First published in 1940, Asylum Piece is a novel composed of short stories or vignettes that chart the course of apparent persecution, paranoia, and mental breakdown, as suffered and witnessed by the female narrator. Anna Kavan’s extraordinary prose style – simple, almost clipped, even slightly alien – gives the novel a peculiar and unsettling edge. The vignettes are sometimes prosaic, sometimes fantastical. In one brief piece, the narrator feels threatened by her own house: “When I first came t ...more
Terry Pearce
Sep 29, 2013 Terry Pearce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second book by Anna Kavan I've read (Ice was the first), and the second I've loved. This book works as a whole or as separate stories, and is probably the most haunting evocation I've come across of the aura of dread around asylums in the early twentieth century. The whole notion that a woman who did not conform to what was called rational behaviour could be placed in a lonely, forbidding oubliette, in the name of curing her, is wonderfully explored, and some powerful pieces delve in ...more
I flew through this, despite the heavy subject of her descent into mental illness & short stories of an institution. I felt the pieces in which she spoke of her own paranoia captured the state of mind brilliantly, as she didn't apply retrospect (assuming she had any to apply) to explain away her state of mind but instead immersed herself, & the reader, in that neurosis. I was disappointed that the point of view switched during the tales of the clinic, but at the same time the different s ...more
Nov 01, 2014 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would give it six stars if I could
Jan 24, 2016 Cory rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gosh she sure was one depressing lady.
mis fit
Jul 22, 2013 mis fit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death, sylvia
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 08, 2012 Lysergius rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Anna Kavan was one of the greatest unsung enigmas in 20th-century British literature. Born Helen Ferguson, a fraught childhood and two failed marriages led her to change her name to that of one of her characters. Despite struggling with mental illness and heroin addiction for most of her life, she was still able to write fiction that was as powerful and memorable as any English female writer of the last 150 years.
Aug 17, 2014 Jacob rated it liked it
Shelves: short-fiction, 2014
"The Birthmark" was suitably horrifying, and the novella "Asylum Piece" was quite good, but I can't say I appreciated any of the other stories in the collection. But I've had a mildly unpleasant week, so this probably wasn't the best thing to read. Maybe I'll have better luck with Ice.
Marc Nash
Feb 05, 2013 Marc Nash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
tales of exile, Kafaesque blind sentencing and guilt, summonses, abasement before patrons, but with more bleakness and less sparkling humour than Franz. The title story is a series of 7 beautifully drawn vignettes about people in an asylum, lost, unsure, unfocused people adrift from reality.
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Anna Kavan was born "Helen Woods" in France on April 10, 1901 to wealthy expatriate British parents.

Her initial six works were published under the name of Helen Ferguson, her first married name. These early novels gave little indication of the experimental and disturbing nature of her later work. I Am Lazarus (1945), a collection of short stories which explored the inner mindscape of the psycholo
More about Anna Kavan...

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“But to whom can one appeal when one does not even know where to find the judge? How can one ever hope to prove one's innocence when there is no means of knowing of what one has been accused? No, there's no justice for people like us in the world: all that we can do is to suffer as bravely as possible and put our oppressors to shame.” 6 likes
“I know that I'm doomed and I'm not going to struggle against my fate. I am only writing this down so that when you do not see me any more you will know that my enemy has finally triumphed.” 4 likes
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