by Katy Darby


It looks so pretty but the contents… are not egregiously bad, but they’re not very good, either. The Whore’s Asylum tries awfully hard but the plot is thin and the necessary padding not up to the mark.

The first half is the best. Fraser and Chapman are decently-drawn characters, and though the laboured style does its best to kill the thing, it rolls along at a steady pace. The epistolary, exposition-packed second half seemed dreadfully long and so slow and tedious, it took every ounce of energy in me to keep turning the pages.

The relationship between Fraser and Chapman – that is the very heart of the tale – failed to convince me. Their growth of their friendship is dealt with so quickly – as if the author was bored by this very necessary scene-setting, only wanting to get on to the fraught tale of Diana – it just didn’t develop at all for me, and it is so central to the plot! I feel it would have made for a much better tale if more of the time that was spent on those dreadful dreary letters at the end was given to developing the details of their friendship. Because I wasn’t persuaded that Fraser and Chapman had grown so close, it made Fraser’s violent reaction to his friend’s engagement seem ludicrous, and Chapman’s response completely over the top.

At least Fraser and Chapman were solid, workmanlike characters, Diana was not, she was, throughout, a device. Lord ‘Lucky’ was just ridiculous; an evilly-chortling, moustache-twirling Dick Dastardly (and not in a good way!). His melodramatic dénouement was especially absurd, certainly worthy of the purplest of Victorian prose. Maybe that was the point? But if it was intended as a clever parody, it didn’t work; it made me giggle uncontrollably, which I’m pretty sure was not the intention.

And what was the point of the illustrations? They weren’t needed and not well done, very out of keeping with the writing style – which squeezed itself through terrible hoops to stay ‘in character’. They reminded me of picture-plates from the comics and books I read when I was nine years old; they seemed very out-of-place and silly.

In short, I read a book like this to be entertained, and I wasn’t. The plot was unconvincing and the prose so desperately dull, it was an epic struggle to finish.