The Salpêtrière asylum, 1885. All of Paris is in thrall to Doctor Charcot and his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad or hysterical, outcasts from society. But the truth is much more complicated – for these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives or strong-willed daughters. Once a year a grand ball is held at the hospital. For the Parisian elite, the Mad Women’s Ball is the highlight of the social season; for the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Geneviève is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister, she has shunned religion and placed her faith in Doctor Charcot and his new science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugénie, the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family. Because Eugénie has a secret, and she needs Geneviève’s help. Their fates will collide on the night of the Mad Women’s Ball…
Title: The Mad Women’s Ball
Author: Victoria Mas; Frank Wynne (Translator)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault, Incest, Abuse, Self harm, Mental illness
The Mad Women’s Ball is a quick but enthralling debut from french author, Victoria Mas. We spend most of our time in the infamous Salpêtrière asylum where we follow some of the women committed there. It is unsurprising that most, if not all, are at the asylum because a man put them there. It is such an upsetting and frustrating thing to witness because of how real that was in the centuries before us.
There is a slight paranormal element that makes this story even more captivating. Eugénie can see and correspond with the dead. Of course, when she confides this secret to someone, she is locked away. Geneviève, the senior nurse, is her only way out of the asylum, but Geneviève doesn’t believe in any religion let alone ghosts. Seeing how and if these two with conflicting beliefs can come together made this novel such a page turner.
All of these events lead up to the most anticipated annual ball. The women look forward this dance every year for a chance to feel normal, when really, they are being made into a spectacle for the guests coming from the outside. It is really heartbreaking to see how they turn these women into an exhibition.
Overall, this is a very haunting but beautifully written story that takes you back to Paris in the late 1800s. I quickly became invested in all of these women’s lives and was always rooting for their happiness and freedom. Of course, with a setting as dark as an asylum, there are dark themes present. Please proceed with caution.
Thank you to Doubleday for the arc! This title was released in the UK on June 17, 2021.
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Victoria Mas is thirty-two. The Mad Women’s Ball, her first novel, has won several prizes in France (including the Prix Stanislas and Prix Renaudot des Lycéens) and been hailed as the bestselling debut of the season. She has worked in film in the United States, where she lived for eight years. She graduated from the Sorbonne University in Contemporary Literature.
we are all stardust and stories…