17 June 2021
My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book
A literary historical novel detailing the horrors faced by institutionalized women in 19th century Paris—soon to be a major film with Amazon Studios.
The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated—these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball—the Madwomen’s Ball—when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpetriere dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Genevieve is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugenie—the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. Because Eugenie has a secret: she sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits, Eugenie is determined to escape from the asylum—and the bonds of her gender—and seek out those who will believe in her. And for that she will need Genevieve's help.
📖 My thoughts...
I love the kaleidoscope cover of this book and what strikes me about The Mad Woman's Ball, is that it's a true mix of thoughts and emotions all swirling together in an atmospheric French historical drama.
Setting The Mad Woman's Ball during the latter part of the eighteenth century and, particularly at the Salpêtrière Asylum in Paris introduces us to a different way of life and for those who both live, and work, at the lunatic asylum there are compelling stories to be heard.
When Geneviève, the senior nurse at the Salpêtrière, meets nineteen year old hospital inmate Eugénie Cléry their paths cross in ways they could never have imagined and it is this association together with the connection with the celebrated psychiatrist and neurologist, Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot which forms the focus of the novel.
Stories of women who were incarcerated in asylums during the fin de siecle highlights the dangerous way that women were all to often moved out of society, especially if their, sometimes, scandalous or unusual behaviour gave cause for concern in a world where to conform and be respectable was the only thing required of them. The latter part of the eighteenth century with its moral and ethical restrictions is vividly described, I enjoyed the gothic feel of the novel and the supernatural elements add an extra frisson of excitement.
I see that it is to be made into a film by Amazon Studios and I think that the cinematic elements of the story will translate really well to the screen. It will be interesting to see how it works out for this talented debut author.
About the Author
A French native, Victoria Mas was raised in the south of France. After studying in California, she got her Master's degree in Literature from the Paris Sorbonne University. The Madwoman's Ball is her debut novel ( Published in France as Le Bal des folles)
Twitter @DoubledayUk #TheMadWomensBall