Review: The Girl Who Couldn’t Read – by John Harding

049248-FC50Synopsis: New England, the 1890s. A man calling himself Doctor John Shepherd arrives at an isolated women’s mental hospital to begin work as assistant to the owner Dr Morgan. As Shepherd struggles to conceal his own dark secrets, he finds the asylum has plenty of its own. Who is the woman who wanders the corridors by night with murderous intent? Why does the chief nurse hate him? And why is he not allowed to visit the hospital’s top floor? Shocked by Morgan’s harsh treatment of the patients, and intrigued by one of them, Jane Dove, a strange amnesiac girl who is fascinated by books but cannot read, Shepherd embarks upon an experiment to help her. As he attempts to solve the mystery of Jane’s past his own troubled history begins to catch up with him and she becomes his only hope of escape, as he is hers. In this chilling literary thriller everyone has something to hide and no one is what he or she seems.

Title: The Girl Who Couldn’t Read
Author: John Harding
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: 28th August 2014
Pages: 542
ISBN:  9780007324231

Rating: 3stars

The Girl Who Couldn’t Read is an American gothic tale, full of disturbing atmosphere, mysterious characters, and a page-turning plot. I flew through it on holiday, it took about a day to finish.

Harding creates an evocative picture of the grim institution at winter; his descriptions whisk you away to a wintery, desolate island – you can practically see the gloomy lights of the Gothic institution glittering menacingly in the mist. I got completely lost in the narrator’s background, I found myself clinging on to titbits about his dark background whilst plotting with him over his future.

So why give it only three stars? Although the novel reads as a standalone, I felt I would have enjoyed it much more had I read the prequel, Florence and Giles. Without knowing Jane’s history, the ending is too random, too much of a turn in events to truly enjoy.

Secondly, although I devoured The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, as soon as I moved on to other books, I completely forgot I read it. I came back from my holidays and discussed all the reading I’d done, but missed this novel completely – it was only when I checked my Goodreads account that I remembered anything about it. A novel can be good, it can be gripping and thrilling to read, but if I don’t remember it? If it doesn’t leave an impression – surely there is something missing?

Overall, The Girl Who Couldn’t Read is a gripping historical gothic thriller by a brilliant author. I’ll definitely go back to read the prequel, Florence and Giles, as I’m intrigued by Jane’s story. Whether I read more from Harding after that is yet to be determined.

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