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376 pages, Hardcover
First published October 6, 2015
“It’s a madness so discreet that it can walk the streets and be applauded in some circles, but it is madness nonetheless.”
“Dear child, do you even know all the rage that is inside you?”
“It’s established; you’re insane.”
“And therefore I am not human,”
Their chalkboard had always consisted of black and white, but the reality was gray, and she struggled with the pain of learning it.
“Yours is a story whose events happen more often than are told. Tales like these belong to the black, do they not? Where they can’t be seen or heard.”
“What’s been done to you, then?” he asked, as if expecting an answer. “Or what have you seen that you’ve gone to the abyss so young?”
“There’s fresh blood spilling, Grace. And we must see which way it flows!”
“Seems a bit calmer, almost,” Reed observed, leaning toward her.
“Yes, they do that sometimes when you treat them like people,”
The meticulous nature of the planner can be misleading. If you have a killer who, say, drains the blood from all their victims, or removes the left hand consistently, the untrained want to say they are insane. But the definition of insanity—an inability to use rational thought—immediately precludes that they must, in fact, be sane.
But how can I find fault with your deeds when without them our paths would never have crossed?
“Ah, contentment,” Thornhollow said. “A wholly underrated feeling.”
“If you perform an action while learning something, re-creating the action may help you recall it later.”
There is more to you than beauty. There is more to you than strength. There is more to you than intelligence. You are a whole person, and I would have you treat yourself as such.
“’E’s a poor drunkard up the hill,” Nell said. “’Is family put ’im away for loving the bottle.”
“He also did say he was drinking them because Jesus was trapped in the bottoms,” Janey put in.
“If I were Jaysus, that’s where I’d go,” Nell said, tipping her glass again.
“I have no shame in String. I’d rather live where String can be String and I can be me without having to pretend I’m something else.”
“Yes, a bit like sisters, I suppose,” Elizabeth said. “Affection tinged with suffering.”
"They work their discreet types of madness on us, power and pain, and we hold to our truths in the darkness.
They all had their terrors.
Grace has given up on speech a long time ago. Once the words no and stop had done nothing, the others refused to come out, their inadequacy making the effort necessary to voice them an equation too easily resolved.
Grace had learned long ago that the true horror's of this world were other people.
There's the blood of another on you, though. I smell a splatter or two, underneath your own. You didn't come here without a fight, did you?
Actual rating: 3.4
"It’s a madness so discreet that it can walk the streets and be applauded in some circles, but it is madness nonetheless.”
Sanity and insanity. Are these two easily distinguished or things are more complicated than it seems? What is the line between sanity and madness? And what defines it? These existential questions people are trying to answer for centuries and still there's no direct solution or a formula which will calculate the right universal answer for all the problems. A madness so discreet touches a rather subtle topic on which we can easily slip and loose our directions. There's no right or wrong answer - there's only opinions and the truth... is it out there or is it something so fragile and nondescript, that we will never see through it properly?
Welcome to asylum of 1800s (we don't have the specific date the story takes place). It looks something like this one the outside
And like this on the inside
Wayburne Lunatic Asylum of Boston is a place our heroine Grace Mae ended up in after she was shipped off by her relatives.
“The signature of one judge and the word of a male family member and that’s that.” She snapped her fingers. “You’re insane.”
Grace is pregnant with a child her father put in her belly and as a young well-bred girl from a high society she is sheltered from the outside world or any male attention. If people noticed her growing stomach, they would've understood immediately who put that baby inside her, so she is temporarily shipped off to the asylum to fix the "problem" and after to come home as if she came back from a long trip abroad. But things turn out not as expected and Grace looses her child, and after that she joins a young doctor who studies criminal psychology, and as his assistance Grace is submerged in a dark world of crime. But Grace's own darkness threatens to engulf her, and the line between sanity and insanity is even murkier than ever.
“Dear child, do you even know all the rage that is inside you?”
This book is full of agony, filth and heart-wrenching pain. Grace went through hell and it is hard in this situation to stay sane. The way women were treated back then is a very serious issue and we can't look at what was happening without inner flinching. The things that were made to Grace in the asylum are terrible, people are treated like animals and there's no saying if the doctors are insane or the patients are.
“But that’s neither here nor there in the darkness. This particular darkness, anyway, the one you and I find ourselves denizens of. We are here because we’re the sanest people in this establishment, so they put us down here as the bedrock on which to gain a foothold for the wanderings of their own minds. They call us insane, then feed their own insanities on our flesh, for we are now less than human. Heedson and Croomes are but examples of the greater world, love. They work their discreet types of madness on us, power and pain, and we hold to our truths in the darkness.”
Asylum originally means shelter and not all of the asylums were horrible like this one. Grace will later see the different kind of facility, where people are treated with compassion and care. But unfortunately many of the asylums back then were places for people rejected by society, and they were treated like animals, because of humans' prejudices and lack of understanding of psychology.
“You’d do better to practice your medicine on them that can be healed, Doctor. The works of such as goes on up at the asylum is an offense to nature. Ain’t no survival of the fittest at work anymore when we’re housing the idiots and stocking their kitchens with the food from our own larders.
Also we have an issue with the role of women in society. This is the world made by men and if men can do almost anything and write their own rules, women should follow the rules and if not, there are consequences.
The true reason for her being admitted here is that she is a young woman who takes an active interest in men and feels no shame in it. The world can’t understand this behavior; therefore the girl must be insane.”
What Grace's father did to her is abominable. He is a monster but he has a power in this world and used to having anything he wants. One of the questions: is he sane and it's the power and realization that he can do anything, makes him so cruel (you know he is a powerful senator and power corrupts and such) or is he insane and can't control his cruelty and lust?
“He is mad, Grace. A lifetime of unmitigated power has left his mind skewed and warped. He truly believes that he can do no wrong, building on false logic to legitimize any action, no matter how heinous, as long as he wants it to be so. He’s a spoiled child, Grace, with the appetites of a man, who answers any questioning of his actions with ‘Because I want to.’
Honestly, I don't know if this is true about that man. The author offers us two opinions and we have to decide for ourselves in the end, but I am really at lost what to think of it.
When Grace met Dr. Thornhollow, he was presenting lobotomy on the most exuberant patients. It made them more happier, or more accurate, it made them forget all their memories and feelings and just exist.
Grace watched with a keen eye as the insane went into the dark room at the end of the passage like feral animals and walked out led by Reed, simple and trusting as children. If the slackness of their faces was off-putting, the dead calm of their eyes offset it, promising that the tumult that had once raged within was now at rest.
Though lobotomy officially appeared only in the 20th century, in this book we have something resembling the procedure and it's never called lobotomy directly. Still, it invoked rather conflicted emotions from me. Does it ethically right to take some shreds of clarity from patients, with knowing for sure that they will never regain it and will stay empty dolls for the rest of their lives. From the one side, it is a mercy, given the life in the asylum, but from the other side... This book is full of conflicted emotions and I had not once doubted the reasons and actions of MCs. But again, we are given a perspective and we can agree or disagree with it.
I must add that characters are rather hard to connect with. For example . I'd say Grace is a rather selfish person and sometimes I wanted to slap her soundly. Again, this line between good and bad is very murky with Grace. She can see things for others are harder to notice. Granted, she was in the asylum and saw terrible things and I can understand this pull of the darkness.
“Doctor, it is my weakness. I see everything; I notice all and I remember—the beautiful and the horrific alike I can recall as easily as a daguerreotype that can’t be unseen. It will be the death of me, this remembering.”
Grace remained as she was, empty gaze riveted on the dead body, sketching the details of the scene onto the blankness that she had created inside herself.
But some of her actions were really dubious and the lack of real consequences made it harder for me to accept it.
Thornhollow, on the other hand, is quite the sanest man in this book and a very practical one with a sharp mind and a dedication to science.
“Who is this Dr. Thornhollow you spoke of?” she asked.
“Him? He’s the sanest of us all.”
“Why is that?”
“Because he knows he’s insane.”
You know how they say insane person will never admit to be insane.
“Be wary of Thornhollow, Grace. He’s a good man, by all measures. You have nothing to fear from him that you would from other men. But that is precisely why you must guard yourself. He does not understand human nature, our emotions and attachments. He’s made a place for himself among the insane because it’s easier for him than moving among society. People are a mystery to him.”
At first he uses Grace for her "gift" (though I rather did not see any special talent in her)
Most people will assume you lack reason. They’re bound to say anything in front of you. Words that might pass when I’m out of earshot will be trapped by your meticulous mind. Within the bounds of the asylum you’re free to be more expressive, establish some relationships however you can without using your voice. But among the public you’re my fly on the wall, a carrier of all the information I can’t possibly collect alone.”
But then there's a connection between them, an understanding of things. There wasn't any romance between Grace and Thornhollow. Grace is too damaged to see past her pain and resentment. But I can predict that things can change in the future. Grace and Thornhollow are well suited for each other and with time they will notice more than common interest in criminology between them. I'd say I liked Thornhollow more than Grace. He is rather charming and I liked his intelligence and wit and he, at least, provided the crumbs of humor that made this dark dark book not so dark.
“Meanwhile I’ll be taking a meal with a man I detest, surrounded by people who want to make small talk and wear evening clothes. I may end the night as a patient and not an employee.”
“If so, I assure you that you’ll be under the most excellent care.”
All in all:
- A madness so discreet has a double bottom. When you look at one side and it seems quite obvious what direction things take, but unexpectedly things change and a real deal is in the opposite direction. It's like this book was at first a psychological thriller, then turned into a detective story and then came back to its origins. I am not sure if that was a good change but at least I wasn't bored and some things still managed to properly shock me.
- It is not an easy read and if you are looking for something entertaining and lighter with more clear lines between good and bad, read These Shallow Graves. These two have something in common, but if you want to read about conflicted characters with often questionable ethics and morals, with tortured souls, and where the line between sanity and insanity is so blurred it's hard to tell what is right or wrong - A madness so discreet is definitely your next read.
I think we’re all quite mad. Some of us are just more discreet about it.
“I think we're all quite mad. Some of us are just more discreet about it.”
“These are your friends now, Grace Mae. A madman who eats cancer in the dark and another who searches for a different kind of killer, the kind that smiles at you in the light of day. This is your new life. I hope you can stand it.”McGinnis first impressed me with her dystopian/survival stories in NOT A DROP TO DRINK and IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. When I found out she was tackling something totally new I was a little hesitant, but excited. Although I had a few issues with A MADNESS SO DISCREET, I have a lot of love for the book, and I might even say I enjoyed it more than NOT A DROP TO DRINK.
“Grace had learned long ago thatI found Grace and the other characters in this book to be truly refreshing, even the very minor characters. They all had depth and distinctive personalities and quirks, they feel like real people and I loved how unique they were, completely unlike any other characters I could think of.
the true horrors of this world were other people.”
“They work their discreet types of madness on us, power and pain,and we hold to our truths in the darkness.”Quotes from an eARC and should be checked against a finished copy.