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The Asylum of Dr Caligari by James Morrow. Book review

June 23, 2017

Asylum of Dr Caligari

In the summer of 1914, Francis Wyndham, a pretentious American painter with a high opinion of himself and his talent finds himself rejected by the great and the good of the art world (spectacularly adding to his credentials by having been thrown down the stairs by no less a figure than Picasso). Finally he gains employment in the establishment of Dr Caligari, teaching his inmates art as a therapy. But the mysterious and sinister doctor is up to no good, having produced a masterpiece so mesmerising it induces a blood-lust and patriotism in troops urging them to rush into battle without a second thought.

Only Wyndham and his eclectic band of artistic asylum inmates stand between the madness Caligari is inflicting on the world.

The Asylum of Dr Caligari is exquisite, inventive madness of epic proportions, laced with wicked humour.

Wyndham’s initial arrival in the country of Caligari’s asylum resoundingly echoes Johnathan Harker’s experiences in Bran Stoker’s Dracula. The mere mention of Caligari sets up a shudder in the local residents. It is soon evident that something is definitely wrong despite the luxuriant surroundings and Wyndham is as much a prisoner as Caligari’s patients.

The inmates and their artwork are wonderfully crackers and significant, as we later find out in the story. The power of art is central to the story and used in a most novel way. There is real tension as Wyndham and his band tried to outwit Caligari.

To me The Asylum of Dr Caligari comes under the same category of taking something and running with it as Bruce Sterling’s splendidly off kilter Pirate Utopia, published last year by Tachyon Publications. Both authors allow the strange to get stranger, yet never once losing control of the plot or where it is going. The two books should sit side by side on their own shelf, lest the energy radiating from them knocks the rest of your collection flying.

The Asylum of Dr Caligari was courtesy of Tachyon Publications via NetGalley.

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