Review: The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas


Translated from the French by Frank Wynne

Publisher:  Doubleday

Publication date:  2021 (in English)

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 . ..

Late 19th century Paris.  Women are committed to mental asylum’s for all sorts of reasons – basically if your father or husband decide to have you committed, you’re committed and have no say in the matter.

In this story, we follow a young woman named Eugenie who is sent to the asylum by her father, and a nurse called Genevieve who has worked at the asylum for many years.  Eugenie challenges Genevieve’s long held beliefs and the story culminates on the evening of the Mad Women’t Ball.  All of high society in Paris are invited to attend the ball so that they can gawp at the ‘mad women’ who all get dressed up in fancy dress to entertain the hoipoloi!  Very bizarre.

This book made me angry and had me rooting fo the women committed to the asylum.  It is atmospheric and evocative, and will make you glad that you are not an emotional women living in the 19th century!

An enjoyable, quick read.  Bonus point for stunning cover!

4/5 stars

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