Book summary: Asylum Piece

1940 BY ANNA KAVAN

Kavan was always a dark writer, a very dark writer. Like Kafka, she writes of prisons with no bars, of paranoiac nightmares, of living in a halfway world between hell and reality. First published sixty years ago (Doubleday did it in the U.S. in 1946), Asylum Piece charts the descent of the narrator from the onset of neurosis to final incarceration at a Swiss clinic. This collection of interlinked and largely autobiographical stories (Kavan suffered numerous breakdowns and was a life-long heroin addict) evokes the sense of paranoia and persecution found in The Trial, though her deeply personal, restrained, and almost foreign-accented style has no true model. The same characters who recur throughout-the protagonist's unhelpful advisor,"" the friend/lover who abandons her at the clinic, and an assortment of deluded companions-are sketched without a trace of the rage, self-pity, or sentiment that have marked more recent accounts of mental instability.

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