Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Review: The Madwomen of Paris by Jennifer Cody Epstein

The Madwomen of Paris
by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Publisher: Ballantine
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads: A young woman with amnesia falls under the influence of a powerful doctor in Paris’s notorious women’s asylum, where she must fight to reclaim dangerous memories—and even more perilously, her sanity—in this gripping historical novel inspired by true events, from the bestselling author of Wunderland.

“I didn’t see her the day she came to the asylum. Looking back, this sometimes strikes me as unlikely. Impossible, even, given how utterly her arrival would upend the already chaotic order of things at the Salpêtrière—not to mention change the course of my own life there.”

When Josephine arrives at the Salpêtrière she is covered in blood and badly bruised. Suffering from near-complete amnesia, she is diagnosed with what the Paris papers are calling “the epidemic of the age”: hysteria. It is a disease so baffling and widespread that Doctor Jean-Martine Charcot, the asylum’s famous director, devotes many of his popular public lectures to the malady. To Charcot’s delight, Josephine also proves extraordinarily susceptible to hypnosis, the tool he uses to unlock hysteria’s myriad (and often sensational) symptoms. Soon Charcot is regularly featuring Josephine on his stage, entrancing the young woman into fantastical acts and hallucinatory fits before enraptured audiences and eager newsmen—many of whom feature her on their paper’s front pages.

For Laure, a lonely asylum attendant assigned to Josephine’s care, Charcot’s diagnosis seems a godsend. A former hysteric herself, she knows better than most that life in the Salpêtrière’s Hysteria Ward is far easier than in its dreaded Lunacy division, from which few inmates ever return. But as Josephine’s fame as Charcot’s “star hysteric” grows, her memory starts to return—and with it, images of a horrific crime she believes she’s committed. Haunted by these visions, and helplessly trapped in Charcot’s hypnotic web, she starts spiraling into actual insanity. Desperate to save the girl she has grown to love, Laure plots their escape from the Salpêtrière and its doctors. First, though, she must confirm whether Joséphine is actually a madwoman, soon to be consigned to the Salpêtrière’s brutal Lunacy Ward—or a murderer, destined for the guillotine.

Kritters Thoughts:  Historical fiction is a genre that I fall back on especially during times when my attention span is having a hard time connecting and reading is difficult - diving into someone else's story and being swept into another time and place helps me escape the chatter of the here and now.  Going back in time to Paris when a woman had very little rights, even over her own healthcare (hmmm. . . .) women were sent to a psychiatric hospital for the smallest thing and then while there were being used a test subjects while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with them!  

Laure graduated from the asylum having what I seem to be cured from hysteria, but doesn't have anywhere to go, so she ends up staying and becoming an attendant until a fateful day when Josephine arrives and they bond and change each other's lives forever.  It was both heartbreaking and insightful to read about what these women went through as they were battling their demons in these horrific conditions.  My favorite experience is when I am lead to search and find more about a subject or person based on my reading of a book and I wanted to read so much more about this doctor, this hospital and the people that passed through these kind of places.  

This was my second Jennifer Cody Epstein read and I have two of hers in the backlist that I want to read.  I would love to get caught up with her soon and hope for more from her in the future.  


Rating: definitely a good read, but can't read two in a row

Ebook 2023:  4 out of 100

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one copy of this book free of charge from Netgalley.  I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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