If only one knew of what and by whom one were accused,
when, where and by what laws one were to be judged, it would
be possible to prepare ones defence systematically and
set about things in a sensible fashion.
First published sixty years ago, Asylum Piece
today ranks as one of the most extraordinary and terrifying
evocations of human madness ever written.
This collection of stories, mostly interlinked and largely
autobiographical, chart the descent of the narrator from the
onset of neurosis to final incarceration at a Swiss clinic.
The sense of paranoia, of persecution by a foe or force that
is never given a name evokes The Trial by Franz Kafka,
the writer with whom Kavan is most often compared, though
Kavans deeply personal, restrained and almost foreign-accented
style has no true model. The same characters who recur throughout
the protagonists unhelpful advisor,
the friend/lover who abandons her at the clinic, and an assortment
of deluded companions are sketched without a trace
of the rage, self-pity or sentiment that have marked more
recent prozac memoirs.
Pervaded by a sense of intolerable oppression,
lit by sudden shafts of delight in the natural world,
their concise artistry proclaims how consumately she knew
and rode her devils.
Anna Kavan charges the space between her words and
the readers mind with a continuous crackle of electricity.
– New Statesman
A writer of unusual imaginative power. – Edwin
An artist of great distinction. – L.P.
A classic equal to the work of Kafka. – Anaïs
née Helen Woods, was born in Cannes
probably in 1901; she was evasive about the facts
of her life and spent her childhood in Europe, the
USA and England. Twice married and divorced, she began writing
while living with her first husband in Burma and was published
under her married name of Helen Ferguson. In the wake of
the collapse of her second marriage, she suffered the first
of many nervous breakdowns and was confined to a clinic
in Switzerland; she emerged from her incarceration with
a new name
Anna Kavan, the protagonist of her 1930 novel Let
Me Alone an outwardly different
persona and a new literary style. Her first novel in this
Asylum Piece, and it achieved for her a certain recognition.
She was a long-term heroin addict and suffered periodic
bouts of mental illness, and these facets of her life feature
prominently in her novels and short stories. She died in
1968 of heart failure soon after the publication of her
most celebrated work, the novel Ice.