Book Review: The Key by Kathryn Hughes

From the #1 bestselling author of The Letter Kathryn Hughes comes The Key, an unforgettable story of a heartbreaking secret that will stay with you for ever. 

Title: The Key
Author: Kathryn Hughes
Published: March 1st 2018 by Headline

Blurb: 1956 

It's Ellen Crosby's first day at work as a student nurse at Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum. When she meets a young girl committed by her father, and a pioneering physician keen to try out the various 'cures' available for mental illness, little does Ellen know that a choice she will make is to change all their lives for ever...


Sarah is drawn to the abandoned Ambergate Asylum and whilst exploring the old corridors she discovers a suitcase in an attic belonging to a female patient who was admitted to the asylum fifty years earlier. The shocking contents of the suitcase lead Sarah to unravel a forgotten story of tragedy, lost love and an old wrong that only Sarah may have the power to put right.

Review: this is my first book by Kathryn Hughes but the intriguing blurb and the shocking prologue had me really excited to discover more about this story. I'd say this novel tells the story of three woman: Ellen and Amy, who arrive at Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum on the same day in 1956, and Sarah, who is trying to uncover the secrets of the now derelict Ambergate in 2006.

The circumstances in which Ellen and Amy arrive at Ambergate couldn't be more different though: Ellen is a psychiatric student nurse and Amy a patient. However, Ellen immediately feels a connection with Amy and goes out of her way to keep an eye on her. You can tell how caring (but also naive) Ellen is and I really enjoyed seeing her grow and trying to find her voice in such a harsh environment. 

Amy was an even more interesting character. Traumatic events have shaped her childhood and she is struggling to function as it is expected of her, so her father just locks her in the Lunatic Asylum. The author paints a very real picture of life in an asylum in the fifties and how patients were treated. It is shocking and horrible to read about it, especially how unfair the system was and how many people were just abandoned and forgotten in these asylums. I think this is the main strength of the story, reminding readers of a very recent cruel reality.

Finally, we have Sarah, who after discovering several suitcases in the abandoned Ambergate is determined to find out the stories behind them. We don't really get to know her as much as the other two characters as we only get snippets of her life but I would have liked to know more about her and how her discoveries impacted her own life. In fact, the pace of the story was a bit slow in the middle part as it focused only in the storyline in 1956 and I almost forgot about Sarah completely. But as soon as the chapters started alternating again with her story, the story captured me again and I raced through the final part.

The Key is a very atmospheric, heartbreaking and intriguing read that will shock and surprise you. 

I would like to thank the publisher for sending me a copy of this book. This is my honest opinion.

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