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Asylum Piece

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  335 Ratings  ·  37 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
Paperback, 212 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Peter Owen Publishers (first published 1940)
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Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The interior self
Recommended to s.p 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
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bp-2014
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 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had been meaning to read Anna Kavan for a long time; when Asylum Piece arrived in the mail I did not hesitate and started it immediately. I read it in the span of two days, rather breathlessly. What a great first encounter—I'll definitely be collecting and reading all of her work. Not all the stories were equally good/gripping, but some of them really got to me (especially chapter II of Asylum Piece, which was brilliant), and overall the pieces put together a product, a vision, of rare quality ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
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
Dec 25, 2009 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
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
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
Jan 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
The very short stories in Asylum Piece feel like sketches, interesting, but not fully developed into satisfying works. Many of them are obviously stories stemming from Kavan’s personal experience with drug addiction and being committed to an asylum, but Kavan’s dark, paranoid view of the world remains aesthetically intriguing even when the meaning of the story is clear. I wish that any of the stories were long enough to build something on that aesthetic, but the pieces here are so short and simp ...more
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Terry Pearce
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Jan G
Jan 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: past-life
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
Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it
An incredible first half is let down by a much weaker second.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So, another book to add onto the growing “if my will to live becomes too strong” pile. As the more descriptive reviews will tell you, this is a brief biographical chronicle of Kavan’s descent into mental illness and subsequent confinement in an institution, with a brief, poignant, and brutally depressing tour of some of the asylum’s other inmates, though some of them may be (parts of?) Kavan herself.

Stories of mental institutions abound, but rarely can you find something that is not a ham-fiste
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 Kavan���s work���and I���m judging this solely on Asylum Piece and Ice as I���ve not read more just yet���is 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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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

The stories in this volume comprise two discrete types. The collection begins with a series of first-person pieces, many of which conjure up strong parallels to Kafka’s The Trial (Kafka was one of Kavan's key influences in her shift of name and writing style), and in general portray a narrator consumed with the interior life, specifically its decay under the apparent assault of depression, while being oppressed by some unidentified official body (as in Kafka’s work, the faceless nameless authori
Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it
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
mis fit
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: death, sylvia
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
Feb 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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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“The day was ill-omened from the beginning; one of those unlucky days when every little detail seems to go wrong and one finds oneself engaged in a perpetual and infuriating strife with inanimate objects. How truly fiendish the sub-human world can be on these occasions! How every atom, every cell, every molecule, seems to be leagued in a maddening conspiracy against the unfortunate being who has incurred its obscure displeasure!” 9 likes
“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.” 7 likes
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