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Love in the Asylum

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  719 ratings  ·  83 reviews
From an author whose work has been called 'haunted and joyous and heartbreaking all at once' (Washington Post Book World) comes an unforgettable novel of two lost souls who find love and salvation against all odds.

Can love save those who believe they are beyond redemption? In and out of a swank north–eastern rehab centre more than a dozen times in ten years, Alba Elliot, a
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 12th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  719 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this novel, which has aspects of mystery and romance, but is ultimately simply a story about human experience.

Alba-- a young woman with severe bipolar disorder-- befriends Oscar, a drug addict, during their stay at a mental health clinic. Despite their initial suspicion of one another, they also experience a strong mutual attraction that draws them together. Alba also becomes immersed in the story of a woman who was at the clinic many years before, whose unsent letters she find
Ayelet Waldman
Lisa is still one of my favorites, and I haven't met her, we've just exchanged emails, so I get to keep my unbiased status.
Jul 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Alba is crazy. She's been institutionalized off and on since she was fifteen. Oscar is an addict. He doesn't believe he's hit rock bottom or think that his using of drugs is a problem. These two people meet when both are committed to Abenaki Hospital in rural Maine. From their first meeting, a spark of something that could take them both beyond their troubles appears. Is it possible to find love in the asylum?

This book was not quite what I expected as I got further into it. Alba and Oscar are bo
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who are interested in drugs, addiction and/or psychology / dysfunctional romances.
I actually really liked this book. If you're into addictions or psychology at all you'll enjoy it.

Love in the Asylum would have received 5 stars from me if only for one element were removed, even modified. I was completely uninterested with the storyline about the woman writing the letters in the backs of books, and her whole story. It was interesting at the beginning, but quickly became boring. If her storyline had been tied in a little better, or cut down a little, it would have worked much b
Oct 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I was really shocked with this book, I usually go to the library with a list, Ive done the research, Ive read the first chapter on google books..Ive read all the ratings and reviews here at good reads, because I dont do well picking up a book randomely like that, Ive read to many baaad books that way..but I was unable to go to the library prepared, but I thought, thats ok...grabbing a Jodi Picoult is usually my book club book, and Im finishing a few series..but I walked by this one a ...more
Meredith Ann
well, i liked this book. i certainly didn't love it. i felt equally engrossed in both oscar & alba's stories and the letters from the library. when those began intertwining, the story dropped off a bit for me. the ending felt rushed, like "here's the conclusion, yay, the end!" don't get me wrong, i appreciated the direction the characters took at the novel's end but it felt a bit too perfect. all in all, a good read. ...more
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. At the time that I read I was working with mentally ill patients and so I created images for all the characters in the book from my clients.
The book totally captivated me, it was so visual and real. Every night when I went to read it was like I was going back to a real place and time.
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really think I love this book. A lot. It has that past mystery aspect that always grabs me, the story was so captivating and the characters incredibly likable. Their afflictions were really backseat to the strength of their personalities and the story, only serving as vehicles for the plots advancement. A sad and beautiful narrative, exactly what I was in the mood for.
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book and I'm not even sure why. It tells the love story of an addict and a bi-polar inmate, parralled by old letters from a woman who was institutionalized in the same asylum many years before. It questions the line between spriituality and sanity, and suggests that perhaps the two are not that far apart.
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I've read this book at least twice, and each time I get sucked into it. The characters are so real and moving that I can't help crying at parts, right along with them. This book really touched me, and I'd recommend it to almost anyone.
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I just happened upon one of this author's books, then I read all I could find. I can't wait until she writes more!
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be both a sad and an interesting read. There is so much sadness in this story, sexual abuse, mental health, mothers displaced from their children, addiction, to name the most compelling. While at the same time there is love, the human desire to help others, the healing act of writing, and the ever present feeling of hopefulness. The story reads like a story within a story, pealing back layers from both simultaneously until the two are joined. The author describes the ravages ...more
Christine Fay
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Alba meets Oscar in the confines of the Abenaki (formerly known as St. Dymphna’s) Hospital for patients with mental illness (Alba Elliot) and addiction (Oscar Jameson). This unlikely pair finds themselves drawn to each other for a poignant, oftentimes tumultuous yet profound relationship. Alba discovers some old letters that were written by a former patient of the asylum who was committed there by her husband; she wrote them to her son and she never got to see any of her children so she wrote to ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This is the 3rd time I've read this book. Obviously, I like it. I enjoy the characterization and dialogue, as well as the storytelling. I agree with others that the end felt rushed. so much happened very quickly and Carey didn't take the same time with exploring the character experience amidst all the action. Perhaps she did this so as not to slow the pacing, but I missed the depth of character that was revealed with a slower and more detailed pace.
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I recently attended a workshop given by this author. The book has three story lines involving three patients in a mental hospital: a man with a drug addiction problem, a woman who suffers from schizophrenia, and a long-deceased Native American patient who may or may not have been a healer. As with a lot of books, I thought the ending was a little too perfect, but the story kept me reading.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mental-health
Interesting novel concerning the inpatients of a mental health facility, over the years. A look at traditional healing by indigenous peoples. Focusing mostly on two people, one dealing with bipolar, one involved with illicit drugs and alcohol.
Ami Stearns
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very engrossing but the more I reflected on it, it just seemed like the characters, and their backstories, were a bit too cliched. I do recommend it.
Peggy Harris
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I wasn't completely in love with this book. It seemed like it was going to be like any other book about people with mental illness or addictions. It redeemed itself the further I read. I especially like how the story of the patient from the past was interwoven with the current story happening between Oscar and Alba.
Oscar is a classic example of someone not addressing their true issues, opting instead to drown them under drug use. Alba is suppressed under a "well-meaning" father, having
Aug 12, 2011 added it
Shelves: 2007
Alba, 25, has been admitted yearly for 10 years & is currently diagnosed with panic disorder. When Oscar is admitted, they bond immediately, each sensing the possibility of something positive in their lives. Alba then discovers letters written by a patient in the 1930s that were never mailed. The woman, part Abenaki Indian, was a "healer," & her seizures gave her abusive husband the grounds to have her committed. Alba becomes obsessed with the letters this woman wrote to her son up until her dea ...more
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took more than 100 pages for this to get going but when it did I could not put it down. We begin in present day with Alba, a young woman who has been in and out of Abenaki Mental Hospital for the past 10 years. Alba is tired of being crazy. Enter Oscar, a 30 year old drug addict enrolled in the rehab program. A connection sparks between the two. One day Alba finds letters written, but never sent, at the back of the hospital library books. Written 70 years earlier by a woman committed to the h ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even better the second time around. I've read all of Carey's books and I admire her so much as an author. Reading her bio on the back flap makes me envious of her life as a writer--I think I want to be her when I grow up!

The layered storylines, feminist/historic treatment of mental illness, and characterization are absolutely wonderful in "Love in the Asylum." Carey writes characters whose inner-voices are so brutally honest that they make me squirm at the familiarness (trust me, this non-word j
Deanna Brown
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love in the Asylum was an easy, enjoyable read that I finished within two days. I'll admit I've always been fascinated with stories who center around a mental institution, and this was no exception. I won't give much away, but I will say that the character of Alba was nicely developed, and Oscar became an entirely sympathetic character by the end. On top of this I absolutely love multi-generational stories, and this one was no exception. The aged letters Alba find add a level of depth to the sto ...more
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it, actual-book
I rarely write reviews but I thought I should with this book. This review is as much about the author as the book itself. This is the second book I have read by Lisa Carey, the first being The Mermaids Singing that I randomly picked up for $.50 at a library sale. I loved it and bought this book immediately after. Love in the Asylum will make you feel so many different emotions and also make you question what the reality was for some of the characters in this book. I can't go into detail without ...more
Rena Sherwood
I read this book years ago because of the Van Gogh on the cover. I have a thing for Van Gogh. So sue me. And crazy people. I have a thing for crazy people since I'll probably be sectioned in the near future (which may not necessarily stop me posting at Goodreads.)


Sadly, the book had nothing to do with Van Gogh. Although it did have crazy people. Other than not having Van Gogh in it but having crazy people, it's a thoroughly unremarkable book. It's like a really REALLY long prose poem.

Cher Staite
Mar 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Lack of conversational quote marks drive me crazy. It masquerades as "modern" but is just laziness. One cannot tell whether a statement is in the character's mind or a part of the conversation—especially as the author does not clarify. I should have ditched this book right in the beginning just for that.

The whole plot was pretty juvenile. Love? There was zero love. I stayed to the last page looking for something to happen. Anything. Finally on the very last page, there was a small hint of a pos
Nov 06, 2007 rated it liked it
I had bought this book at a garage sale for .50 cents along with a few others and I thought, what the heck. So, after reading a book about female purity in Haiti, I thought I'd pick up something like to read. Man, was I wrong. It's not exactly heavy, but it's also not light. It's about addiction, mental illness, and mystical shamanism. Not what I expected and had the writer not been refreshingly good, I would have put it down. Again, the subject of this book was not my taste, but the other reall ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The whole feel of this book was moving, without being overly dramatic. It was almost like reading two stories in one because of the "letters". It made me realize the injustice that a lot of women must have went through in an era where locking your "crazy" wife away was an acceptable act.

Watching two people trying to work through their feelings of "crazy/addiction" and of "love" towards each other at the same was really interesting. The sarcastic bantering between the characters was very witty,
Mar 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zoe by: Caroline
Shelves: harpercollins
I positively gobbled this book up. It was well written with thought-provoking characters and situations.

This is the story about two rehab patients who meet while struggling with their respective problems -- alcoholism and combination of manic depression. Interwoven throughout is the discovered letters of a patient from decades earlier, forming a love story between mother and child.

It is a powerful story of overcoming the evils your mind puts upon you, and therefore resonates deeply with me. Hi
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. intriguing yet utterly depressing subject matter. and it's not necessarily a love story rather more of a survival story. several recurring themes throughout the book= hero/savior characters, parent/children relationships, treatment of mental illness/addiction both modern and historically. my favorite character was oscar as he seemed the most realistic. the end was wrapped up too nicely and abruptly. i actually picked this book up off the shelf on a whim, which i never do and i was ple ...more
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Being both an addict AND a bi polar, I almost had no choice but to deeply connect with this beautifully written novel.
And then there was the addtional subject matter of an Indian healer/shaman/Persephone journeying to the land of the dead. I didn't want the story to end.
I don't know if it was the theme or the writing that crept into my soul. Perhaps I'll have to read Lisa Careys other works to determine the answer.
The book also captures writers dreams. Alba already published. And Oscar publis
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Lisa Carey was born in 1970 in Boston, Massachusetts to Irish-American parents. She grew up in Brookline and later moved with her family to Hingham, Massachusetts.

She attended Boston College and received a B.A. in English and Philosophy in 1992.

Pursuing her MFA in Writing, she took a semester off and lived in Inishbofin, Ireland for six months. There, Carey began her first novel, The Mermaids Sin

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