100 books like Asylum

By Patrick McGrath,

Here are 100 books that Asylum fans have personally recommended if you like Asylum. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

Frazer Lee Author Of Greyfriars Reformatory

From my list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths. I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary every day rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of books celebrates that. I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have.

Frazer's book list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution

Frazer Lee Why did Frazer love this book?

I once worked on a film shoot at the infamous Friern Barnet Asylum in London, an imposing building that boasts the longest corridor in Europe at over a third of a mile long. It was my job to lock up after filming was over each night, and to do so, I had to walk the long corridor with just a flashlight for company… and the ghosts rumoured to haunt the building! I have never forgotten the feeling of dread and despair in that place, and my heart went out to the patients who were isolated in the creepy basement wards. Barbara Taylor gives an inside perspective on this fearsome institution in her book, which is both an achingly honest account of mental illness and addiction, and a critique of community care.

By Barbara Taylor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Asylum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Last Asylum is Barbara Taylor's haunting memoir of her journey through the UK mental health system.

A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

SHORTLISTED FOR THE RBC TAYLOR PRIZE

In July 1988, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, was admitted to what had once been England's largest psychiatric institution: Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, later known as Friern Hospital.

This searingly honest, thought-provoking and beautifully written memoir is the story of the author's madness years, set inside the wider story of the death of the asylum system in the twentieth century. It is a meditation on her own experience…


Book cover of The Chocolate War

Frazer Lee Author Of Greyfriars Reformatory

From my list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths. I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary every day rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of books celebrates that. I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have.

Frazer's book list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution

Frazer Lee Why did Frazer love this book?

I read this book during my school days, which we are often told are the best of our lives. I enjoyed school, overall, but did encounter more than my fair share of bullies and vindictive teachers. Reading in the school library became my favourite escape, and I devoured this book in one lengthy sitting. I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure by secret society The Vandals, who made the kids at my school look like rank amateurs! After reading this book, the reader is left shell-shocked and wondering if it’s better to comply or to ‘disturb the universe’ as Cormier provocatively puts it.

By Robert Cormier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Chocolate War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The bestselling controversial novel about corruption and misuse of power in an American boys' school.
The headmaster of Trinity College asks Archie Costello, the leader of the Vigils, a secret society that rules the school, to help with the selling of 20,000 boxes of chocolates in the annual fund-raising effort. Archie sees the chance of adding to his power - he is the Assigner, handing out to the boys tasks to be performed if they are to survive in the school. Freshman, Jerry Renault, a newcomer to the corrupt regime, refuses to sell chocolates. Enormous mental and physical pressure is…


Book cover of The Devil in Silver

Michele W. Miller Author Of The Lower Power

From my list on supernatural terror with real-world adversity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write horror and crime thrillers grounded in my unusual lived experience as an author and attorney who has also overcome poverty, incarceration, and violent crime. I feel most fulfilled when I read a book that both entertains and expands me in meaningful ways, immersing me in lives, cultures, and history I might not otherwise know. So I love Social Horror novels, which feature characters who face significant human adversity beyond my own experience and leave me questioning what was worse, the human or the supernatural.

Michele's book list on supernatural terror with real-world adversity

Michele W. Miller Why did Michele love this book?

A man called “Pepper,” who may or may not suffer from mental illness, ends up in a locked mental ward in Queens, New York, where the entire novel takes place.

A beast, who the patients believe is the devil, comes out at night, assaulting and sometimes killing patients. Patient deaths are chalked up to suicide. The engaging, quirky characters—drugged to the gills while warehoused and essentially untreated in a public hospital—share the defining feature of being low-income and unprotected from both the supernatural and human forces that would destroy them. They must take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.

I appreciated the theme of how marginalization and isolation presented as much terror here as the supernatural. Yet, the hope and humor of the characters also kept me engaged and frequently smiling.

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Devil in Silver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Publishers Weekly

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.
 
Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first…


Book cover of The Hospital

Frazer Lee Author Of Greyfriars Reformatory

From my list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths. I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary every day rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of books celebrates that. I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have.

Frazer's book list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution

Frazer Lee Why did Frazer love this book?

A deeply unsettling book, The Hospital occupies those liminal spaces that lie somewhere between illness and health, memory and madness. The narrator is admitted to the hospital to receive treatment for an unspecified disease and finds that the labyrinthine corridors and wards match those of his mind. Casablanca-born author Ahmed Bouanani was confined to a hospital bed for six months after contracting tuberculosis. Part hallucinatory fever dream and part half-remembered memoir, the book is a unique blend of Moroccan history and surrealist horror.

By Ahmed Bouanani, Lara Vergnaud (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hospital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive..." So begins Ahmed Bouanani's arresting, hallucinatory 1989 novel The Hospital, appearing for the first time in English translation. Based on Bouanani's own experiences as a tuberculosis patient, the hospital begins to feel increasingly like a prison or a strange nightmare: the living resemble the dead; bureaucratic angels of death descend to direct traffic, claiming the lives of a motley cast of inmates one by one; childhood memories and fantasies of resurrection flash in and out of the narrator's consciousness as the hospital transforms…


Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Laura Giebfried Author Of None Shall Sleep

From my list on mystery that takes you into the characters head.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been intrigued with the mind for as long as I can remember. As a child, I imagined shrinking myself down and worming my way into other people’s brains to discover how their thoughts differed from mine. When I realized that was impossible, I started creating characters and imagining how they would think, react, and feel. This led to writing novels and motivated me to get my bachelor’s in abnormal psychology and my master’s in forensic psychology. Now, with an innate curiosity for the mind and a background in how it works, I find myself drawn to reading and writing books that take me into characters’ heads.

Laura's book list on mystery that takes you into the characters head

Laura Giebfried Why did Laura love this book?

Whenever I feel trapped, I think about this book. Told in the first person, it brought me into the asylum and locked me in there with the other patients, and even once I finished reading it, I didn’t feel completely free.

There’s something I like to call “Hollywood Mental Illness.” Movies tend to sugarcoat mental disorders and make them seem fun and entertaining. This book does nothing of the sort. I felt the isolation, the fear, and the sheer panic that these characters faced, like a huge, heavy ball in the pit of my stomach and a zigzagging anxiety that repeatedly paced across my mind. What makes it so dark and frightening is that it’s routed in so much truth, which makes it such a compelling story.

By Ken Kesey,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey's 1962 novel has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Now in a new deluxe edition with a foreword by Chuck Palahniuk and cover by Joe Sacco, here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them…


Book cover of The Patient

Madison Lawson Author Of The Registration

From my list on thriller books for adults who miss YA dystopian.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with the macabre since childhood and have always been drawn to the darker sides of humanity. In nearly every story, the villain is my favorite character, and I’m most intrigued with their motives. From The Magic Tree House to Artemis Fowl to The Hunger Games to The Purge, I’ve consumed as much sci-fi, dystopian, thriller fiction as possible my entire life. I’ve written several thriller novels and dystopian books and have worked with Bradley Fuller, the producer of The Purge and A Quiet Place, on the possible movie adaptation of my debut novel. If you also like dystopian thrillers, feel free to check out my recommendations!

Madison's book list on thriller books for adults who miss YA dystopian

Madison Lawson Why did Madison love this book?

The Patient is a very quick read and easy to get sucked into, questioning everything you might know or think. I love how it was told through a series of online posts during which the narrator, a young psychiatrist, slowly reveals his story, never quite knowing if what he experienced was real or if he was going crazy.

I love how the sci-fi aspect took it out of our real world just enough to feel fantastical but not too much to be unrealistic or like a classic high-fantasy novel. The pace was fantastic, the twists and reveals were perfectly placed, and it was just the right amount of horror. I appreciate any book that is unexpected and leaves me thinking about it for days after I’m finished.

By Jasper DeWitt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Patient as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility's most difficult, profoundly dangerous case - a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat…


Book cover of Garnethill

M.R. Mackenzie Author Of In the Silence

From my list on crime with amateur detectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I’ve enjoyed crime novels, I’ve always been drawn to the figure of the amateur detective. Something about the notion of the every(wo)man, forced to rely on their own wits and limited resources to solve the mystery and outsmart the killer (and sometimes the police!), has always appealed to me far more than that of the professional who does it for a living. When I wrote my first novel, In the Silence, I knew from the word “go” that I wanted to tap into this rich but often-overlooked vein of crime fiction with my own plucky amateur sleuth, determined to right the wrongs of the world.

M.R.'s book list on crime with amateur detectives

M.R. Mackenzie Why did M.R. love this book?

Before I read Garnethill, my perception of the typical Glasgow crime novel protagonist was that of the hard-drinking, rule-breaking, middle-aged, divorced male detective – in other words, the usual cliché. Maureen O’Donnell shatters that. A survivor of childhood abuse, she’s treated as an unreliable eyewitness and potential murder suspect due to her mental health history and turns detective to entrap and unmask a killer who’s been targeting others like her – women whose voices are ignored because they’re deemed to be “crazy”. Packed with colourful characters and raw, angry prose, Denise Mina’s debut novel has a rough-and-ready quality compared to her later work, but which is entirely suited to the subject matter – a defiant battle cry against both the men who abuse their power and those who look the other way.

By Denise Mina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Garnethill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Maureen O'Donnell wasn't born lucky. A psychiatric patient and a survivor of sexual abuse, she is stuck in a dead-end job and a secretive relationship with Douglas, a shady therapist. Her few comforts are making up stories to tell her psychiatrist, the company of her friends, and the sweet balm of whisky. She is about to put an end to her affair with Douglas when she wakes up one morning to find him in her living room with his throat cut. iewed in turn by the police as a suspect -- aided and abetted by her drug-dealing brother Liam -…


Book cover of The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

Mona Simpson Author Of Commitment

From my list on books that tell a story of life with mental illness.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Mona Simpson, the author of seven novels. I grew up with a mentally ill parent who struggled to support me, her only child, as a single mother. I saw firsthand the toll living in the world cost her. One of my first experiences of adulthood was a sense of relief in discovering that staying above water was manageable, even easy. Walking home from my first real job, seeing all the other people’s backs and legs hurry ahead of me, I liked being one of the many. I wondered if my mother could have ever felt that ease if there had been an alternative.

Mona's book list on books that tell a story of life with mental illness

Mona Simpson Why did Mona love this book?

In 1995, in the attic of a decommissioned mental hospital in New York State, a curator of New York State Museum, a local volunteer, a psychiatrist/ documentarian, and a photographer found a trove of suitcases, doctor’s bags, steamer trunks with Chinese motif, housekeys, photographs, earrings, belts, upright ladies Saratoga trunks (“so named because they could hold enough clothes for an entire summer season in the resort town of Saratoga Springs.")

The researchers ventured further into the hospital's now vacant sites, an abandoned bowling alley, and its burial grounds. Finally, they obtained permission to get a few hours with the medical records, which were stored in an abandoned hospital building contaminated with asbestos and lead, requiring them to don protective gear and booties.

Their hope was to bring the forgotten patients who’d spent years in the institution back to life. This book and its intricate details haunted me. There are so…

By Darby Penney, Peter Stastny, Lisa Rinzler (photographer)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lives They Left Behind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad. It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us." --Oliver Sacks "Fascinating...The haunting thing…


Book cover of Hector and the Search for Happiness

Mónica Ramírez Chimal Author Of Make life Yours!: Based on real facts

From my list on live life fully.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a person like you who has lived difficult situations, has had losses, made mistakes, and deals with bad days wondering about my existence and purpose in life. I have a gift, and it's writing; I began sending reflective messages to the people at my office and that’s when I noticed that people loved them. Years later, after reading several books and accumulating more experience, I realized that there are several experiences that are common to all, but few questioned. Therefore, I decided to share my insight and thoughts in my second book, hoping to help people be a better version of themselves and live their lives to their fullest.

Mónica's book list on live life fully

Mónica Ramírez Chimal Why did Mónica love this book?

Who hasn’t looked for advice on how to be happy? I found wisdom in this book that, in addition to laughing, it made me reflect.

I realized that happiness is not an objective; it is in us, in the way we feel about ourselves. This book came to my hands when I was lost in life and gave me direction. It made me see that I was like Hector, living in the past, wondering how my life could be if I only had done something different. I learned that first, I needed to see what makes me happy.

While reading it, I took several notes that later helped me to order my own life and see who I was. And now I can share that it worked! This book was a lifesaver for me.

By Francois Lelord,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hector and the Search for Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can we learn how to be happy? Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He's very good at treating patients in real need of his help. But many people he sees have no health problems: they're just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. Hector can't do much for them, and it's beginning to depress him. So when a patient tells him he looks in need of a holiday, Hector decides to set off round the world to find out what makes people everywhere happy (and sad), and whether there is such a thing as the secret of true happiness.


Book cover of The Eye in the Door

Mary Francois Rockcastle Author Of Rainy Lake

From my list on WW1 through multiple perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Both of my grandfathers served in WWI. Growing up on their stories, I had a keen interest in WWI. A lover of history, I attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian called The Faces of War that focused on prosthetic masks made by artists during WWI for men whose faces had been mutilated by war. Having always wanted to write a historical novel, I merged my interest in WWI with a newfound passion for these faces of war and wrote Day Lights the Bone (not yet published). The novel is set in a military hospital in Wandsworth, England, during the final months of WWI. I am a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, where for many years I taught and served as Director of The Creative Writing Programs.

Mary's book list on WW1 through multiple perspectives

Mary Francois Rockcastle Why did Mary love this book?

The Eye in the Door continues Barker’s exploration of the morality of war through its impacts on human beings.  While she continues the journeys of Dr. W. H. R. Rivers and Siegried Sassoon, she explores in great detail the experience of Lieutenant Billy Prior, a complex character who works as a domestic intelligence agent.  Prior is torn between his own antiwar feelings and his working class and bisexual identities as he spies on pacifists, homosexuals, and government critics.

By Pat Barker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Eye in the Door as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second installment in the Regeneration Trilogy

It is the spring of 1918, and Britain is faced with the possibility of defeat by Germany. A beleaguered government and a vengeful public target two groups as scapegoats: pacifists and homosexuals. Many are jailed, others lead dangerous double lives, the "the eye in the door" becomes a symbol of the paranoia that threatens to destroy the very fabric of British society.

Central to this novel are such compelling, richly imagined characters as the brilliant and compassionate Dr. William Rivers; his most famous patient, the poet Siegfried Sassoon; and Lieutenant Billy Prior, who…


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