Today I’m sharing my review for The Key by Katherine Hughes, a book that’s very different to my usual reads, but one I found to a be a breath of fresh air, you can read on for my thoughts, but first the book description….
It’s Ellen Crosby’s first day as a student nurse at Ambergate Hospital. When she meets a young woman admitted by her father, little does Ellen know that a choice she will make is to change both their lives for ever…
Sarah is drawn to the now abandoned Ambergate. Whilst exploring the old corridors she discovers a suitcase belonging to a female patient who entered Ambergate fifty years earlier. The shocking contents, untouched for half a century, will lead Sarah to unravel a forgotten story of tragedy and lost love, and the chance to make an old wrong right . . .
Every once in a while I like to pick up a book thats outside my comfort zone, a book that takes me away from serial killers, murders and mayhem, and when I read the book description for The Key I knew it was one I had to read. I’ve always been intrigued by asylums, I put that down to spending so many years working as a psychiatric nurse. When I think of asylums I conjure up images of wrong doings, barbaric treatments and an environment that was definitely not therapeutic to those living within the walls of such a place. Despite this Katherine Hughes has written a book that’s beautifully told, with a moving and thought provoking storyline, it’s one that pulls at the most hardened heart strings.
The Key has a dual timeline, alternating between the 1950s and present day. Sarah, historian, finds a stash of old suitcases whilst going through the ruins of the old asylum. She is drawn to one suitcase in particular that contains a 50-year-old secret about the tragic life of Amy, a former patient. Katherine Hughes manages to convey the attitudes of the staff and the treatment of patients in Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum with such conviction that some readers may find this book an uncomfortable and upsetting read at times. There is no doubt The Key makes for a heartbreaking read, and more so because of the cruelty of such asylums, the author also highlights the shocking and unbelievable reasons patients found themselves incarcerated.
The author has done a magnificent job in creating characters that are so well drawn that you can’t help but invest in their story, especially Amy’s it’s a tragic one and all the more upsetting because it’s a very believable one. It’s easy to imagine Amy’s confusion, her feeling of helplessness, but mostly you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of injustice at the way Amy was treated in Ambergate. This could have been a depressing read, but the author manages to add some heartwarming moments of friendship, hope and love within its pages.
Katherine Hughes has written a novel that made for a enthralling read, at times I found myself quite emotional which is a testament to the author’s writing skills, by the time I reached the last page I felt like I had been alongside Amy in her life journey, a path filled with heartbreak, fear and rejection. The Key is a wonderful told story of pain, loss, truth, and redemption. A disturbing yet captivating read that I would highly recommend to readers of historical fiction.
- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Headline Review (6 Sept. 2018)
Buying links: Amazon UK 🇬🇧 Amazon US 🇺🇸
The Key was inspired by the real-life discovery of a room filled with suitcases in a derelict asylum in Willard, New York. I visited the Willard Suitcases website to read more, it’s a fascinating website but also extremely sad, but it does make you realise that The Key although a work of fiction is inspired by real people placed in the most awful situations.