New release! 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.
Both are dark possibilities—but not nearly as dark as what Laure will unearth when she sets out to discover the truth.
By Jennifer Cody Epstein. Hardcover. 400 pages. Published by Ballantine Books, 2023.