I was consumed by the first half of this book. I read 50% of it in 2 days, which is telling for me. I was drawn to the ambiguity of Edgar Stark’s mental illness. I felt, as Stella did, that maybe he didn’t actually belong in this well-known psychiatric hospital.
Stella is the wife of an up-and-coming psychiatrist (Max) in England in the late 1950s. They have a young son, Charlie. Stella doesn’t do much of anything, but it is implied that her life is rather ordinary, so it’s not as though she’s an anomaly. The family lives on the grounds of the aforementioned psychiatric hospital, which is how Stella and Edgar happen upon each other.
Given her nothing to do, and her unfortunate boredom with her husband, Stella forges a friendship with Edgar that quickly heats up into an insatiable love affair replete with clandestine meetings for sexual encounters, an attic space made up as romantic quarters for the two. Eventually, and questionably the end goal of his all along, Edgar’s proximity to the grounds’ keys allows him to escape. Soon after, Stella goes on a search for him.
The first half of the book is much more action than the second half. The second half descends into a languishing and constant ache. Madness consumes Stella and she turns into a painfully unlikable and constantly drunk character. Her life choices are bad, so bad. And all of this with a constant undertone of “Gosh I miss Edgar,” which, given how scary he had become, is annoying.
I both read the book and listened as I drove to work to the Audible counterpart. Sir Ian McKellen’s narration improved this book immensely. I recommend the listen if you’re compelled to read this book. I’m not sure I’d recommend it unless I knew someone who liked dry prose that oozed British through its pores.