Review of Emilie Autumn’s Gargantuan “Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls,” Book

Emilie Autumn’s Treatise on the Imperfections of our country’s Mental Health System, or our continued ignorance of the ramifications of mental health problems….Just Read the Book

Summary of Book from Asylum Emporium (Store on her Website)

“Straddling the bookshelves somewhere between psychological study, historical horror story, and fantasy fiction sits Emilie Autumn’s debut autobiographical novel, “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls.”
Written and illustrated by the notoriously manic-depressive rock star, this chilling tale combines humor, tragedy, and suspense to produce a blood-curdling account of the nightmare that is life inside an insane asylum, comparing those from the Victorian era with our modern day version, and proving, through her own personal experiences, that not much has changed from then to now.
Culled directly from EA’s real-life diary entries, the story begins with Emilie’s suicide attempt and prompt imprisonment inside a psychiatric hospital. Sparing no detail, Emilie shows us exactly what goes on inside this house of horrors, exposing secrets that the general public could never have guessed at. Narrated with the sarcastic and self-deprecating humor present in all of EA’s works, much of the subject matter may be considered controversial. Still, as in her song lyrics, Emilie tells the truth at all costs, thrusting the brave reader into a play-by-play narrative of her bi-polar episodes, even providing photos — blood, cuts, and all.
The tale takes an unexpected turn when, whilst still in the psych ward, Emilie discovers evidence of a parallel dimension — a world that soon becomes indiscernible from her own. As the days go by, the seemingly disparate worlds of the story’s two lead characters (Emilie and Emily, EA’s Victorian counterpart) begin to merge, leaving the reader, as well as the book’s author, rather confused as to whether the accounts are truly autobiographical or whether EA has managed to seamlessly morph from true-life tale to extremely well-researched historical fiction.
“The Asylum…” is not all gloom and doom however. It is a reality-bending thriller as well as a profoundly empowering tale of suffering, sisterhood, and revenge that culminates in what is perhaps one of the most suspenseful cliff-hangers of all time. The book’s colorful cast of characters (diabolical doctors, mental patients, and the talking plague rats and blood-sucking leeches that fans of EA’s music are already familiar with) thoroughly entertain, educate, and engross the reader with prime movie material. “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls,” will leave fans shocked and readers everywhere gasping for air.
Each full-color page of this beautifully bound, 266 page hardcover is positively packed with hand written memoirs, fanciful paintings, and sketches of the Asylum’s inhabitants. In perhaps the most perverse twist of all, this Rated R publication is cleverly disguised as a high-end children’s activity book, complete with interactive elements including notes, craft patterns, and reader quizzes designed both to disturb and delight. This monumental show of literary and artistic talent demands a place on your tea table as well as on your nightstand, although, readers, take care — you’ll never think of your doctor in quite the same way again.
Prepare yourself to enter a world most pray never to visit. But beware: It is much easier to get into the Asylum than it is to get out…”

        Reading Emilie Autumn’s gargantuan book Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls,priced at sixty dollars at her online store (the aptly named Asylum Emporium), is quite frankly one of the most thrilling, most revealing accounts of the parallel differences of the world of mental illness out there. Working on different levels as pure historical fiction, contemporary about the world of mental health institutions, and also a reflection of our continued perpetuation of dangerous sexist attitudes about women, this book is not merely just drivel, but sophisticated literature, coming from one of my favorite recently-discovered indie techno-goth artists, Emilie Autumn. In the world of music with so many stale pop songs that lack any eclecticism, Emilie Autumn’s industrial gothic music shines brilliantly out of the din of uninspired rap and pop music that is so often heard. More importantly, the messages in her music, which revolves around psychological reflections about deep issues such as rape and suicide, have caused Emilie Autumn to be one of the most divisive artists out there. Perhaps, this divisiveness has caused this book, in particular, to be ignored.

When any story touches such touchy subjects like cutting, suicide, and bipolar disorder, the instant reaction from people is a condescending attitude that this is all just “emo whining” or something so unsophisticated that it can’t be worthy of reading with a serious critical lenses. Except, this story is more than a tawdry account of the difficulties of a life lived with a mental illness. Rather, the story is deeply cathartic, plumbing psychological depths that other books rarely venture upon. Structurally, the book is a marvel for any serious psychoanalytic critic.

From the beginning, the story begins in modern times within a rather doleful, but slightly sarcastic account of Emilie’s own admission into a mental institution. For more sensitive or prudish readers, they might never be able to suspend their judgement, when they read that she tried to kill herself, but successfully had an abortion. With such depth and introspection, Emilie reflects on the confusing emotions that she faced, when suffering a terrible mental breakdown and a horrible break-up with her boyfriend. Resigning herself from explicitly offering details of the events that preceded her suicide attempt, we get only scattered details about what drove her to madness. The inexplicable factor of this whole scene that might cause some people to lash out with indignant moral judgement is the grey area that exists in the psyche of those with bipolar disorder, much like Emilie  Autumn herself. This type of complex psyche is the very embodiment of the postmodern frame of mind. At its essence, Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girl really is a rich, post-modern novel.

In all her music, there is a ingenious sense of depersonalization, authentically reflecting the deep emotional and intellectual detachment that occurs   as a result of having a serious mental disorder like bipolar disorder. In the psyche, there exists two polarized worlds, and the scheme of the novel reflects the deep division that artistically exists within the narrator’s psyche  As we venture further into the conscious reflection of Emilie’s appropriately discursive account of the emotional hardships faced in a mental institution, she began envisaging a parallel world  in nineteenth century England that features the title character named “Emily,” who is sent to a musical institution all due to her exceptional talents as a violinist  The plot then abruptly segues its way to a disturbing account of emotional and sexual abuse, all too common for women during the nineteenth century England. While Emily manages to escape from the prison of this abusive master, she is then placed in a terrible prison called the asylum. The drama of the “asylum for wayward Victorian girls,” is populated with many clever, fictitious elements, but the underlying commentary on the mistreatment of women during this time is what is amply reflected throughout this small section and in other sections of this large volume.

Without spoiling the rest of the book, I will say that things get much more interesting from here on out in terms of the psychological nature of the story. We are never quite sure whether Emilie’s perspective from the modern mental institution is real, or the bleak asylum in Victorian England  that her parallel self “Emily” inhabits are real. The story masterfully never ascertains for the reader which perspective is completely real. Many literary critics would simply declare the narrator “an unreliable narrator,” and completely dismiss  this text altogether. There is something so richly fascinating and subversive about this book that it is certain to turn people immediately away in disgust. Some people might even have the gall to read it and ignore the underlying analysis of the comparative look at the treatment at women between the worlds of nineteenth century and twenty-first century. In the one lucid frame of our minds, we should be asking ourselves: How much has really changed for people with mental disorders; thereby, what is the state of our mental health institutions?

In terms of commentary on women’s rights, are things really rapidly progressing as it should in respects to the way we treat women? Within some Christian circles, the treatment of women, who comprise the majority of membership to some of these more fundamentalist branches, still actively seek ways to denigrate women by either not allowing them to be pastors, or still preach from the pulpit that they are intrinsically inferior to men. If some churches have abandoned their sexist overtones, they ostensibly still preach frightfully sexist things by neurotically obsessing over the immorality of male homosexuality (not lesbianism as much..very interesting..). Feminism or Egalitarian concerns in society are not just important to women; it concerns all of us.

Essentially, it reflects the darker shade of our psyche that has the propensity  to not only patronize those we deem as “others,” but find ways to propagate the idea  that they are intrinsically less intelligent, less beautiful, and less capable of civilized behavior. The way we treat fifty-one percent of the population by declaring that they’re servile sandwich makers is blurred with our perception of those with mental disorders, who we still see as being untrustworthy and crazy. Many women, who are viewed as strong, are still cast as being insane. A man that might have a more socially defined “feminine” or “emotionally-sensitive side”     might be seen as suffering from not being a full male.These were mental health obsessions for those in the nineteenth century: a marked obsessive fear of men perhaps showcasing some emotional traits that are  viewed as more feminine traits in a limited fashion.

For being so brash, clever, and unapologetic, Emilie Autumn is often called “a misandrist”(a word that curiously does not exist in the dictionary), a drama queen, and some people have even said that her bipolar disorder makes this whole account ( a pastiche of fictional and non-fictitious elements)  suspect. Weirdly enough, everything that Emilie writes about in this book is reflected with the mixed emotions, surrounding this book. In the end, this is remarkable art, where the chiefest, most essential thing is not to merely entertain the reader, but to implore the reader to think deeply about issues that pervade our existence everyday. Those who fear books like this really believe it will make their children suicidal or have dark ideas in their mind; wouldn’t Hamlet or any Shakespearean tragedy do the same thing with its accounts of psychopaths and lovers bent on suicide stories? I’m not recommending this book for children of course, all due to the mature subject matter, but people often act petulant nonetheless about adult fiction (as though adult readers should be treated as children, like at some fundamentalist schools that ban PG-13 movies for adults that are 18-23 yrs. old).

It’s surprising  but very commendable  that Emilie Autumn sought to publish her controverial magnum opus herself. Are there more people willing to seriously scrutinize and handle this work as a serious book, worthy of a scholarly analysis? Much like the works of Anne Rice, the gothic theme still signals the words “tawdry pulp-fiction, written by a sex-deprived cat ladly,” thus it is then forever easy to permanently dismiss this book as something frivolous. This is a book written with expert prose and great narrative structure. It imbues us with the sense of being in a different world, much like Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films  allows us to escape. But, this darkly humorous account harbors a dark side, and this dark side will make us all reflect on a multitude of issues beyond those described as “feminist concerns;” this is a work that diversely explores the deepest depths of our psyche, and makes us wonder just how truly sane  both society and ourselves really are.

If you consider yourself a fan of psychological works, I highly recommend this, even if you are not a fan of her industrial gothic music.  This is not yet another self-described emo work. Rather, this is a work that is heavily inspired by the very tragic and dramatic archetypes that Shakespeare once utilized to make the audience members, who watched his plays, seriously reflect on the state of their inner and outer world; their very delicate grasp of what we postmodernists weakly declare “reality.”

Simply put, Emilie Autumn is a widely talented artist that deserves serious attention!
Check out her recent music video for the main single for her newest album:Fight Like a Girl. The music video is directed by the same talented team behind Repo the Genetic Opera  and Devil’s Carnival.

Links of Interest:Emilie Autumn’s Website
Emilie Autumn’s Facebook/ Twitter

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