Published in March 2016, Asylum is a complex, fractured novel that hovers on the border of reality and unreality. It is the most recent work by author John Hughes, whose novel The Idea of Home received the Premier’s Award for Nonfiction in 2005. The tale of Asylum is intriguing, a Kafkaesque allegory that binds the strangeness felt by refugees seeking asylum, with an image of purgatory borrowed from classical works of fiction. It is split into two acts, and within these acts, multiple fragments. The reader encounters excerpts from reports and inquiries as well as ‘Legends’ of both ‘The Doors’ and ‘The Place’. The landscape of the text is split into three places, ‘Sanctuary’, the ‘Doors’, and ‘Place’. Its protagonists are Baba and Ash, and…show more content… In this respect, Hughes alienates readers who prefer a linear narrative plot, with characters and motives that are easy to decipher. Ed Wright (2012) incurred the same issue upon reading Hughes’ earlier novel The Remnants. He argues that there are books ‘that can only be fully appreciated once the real terror of one’s own mortality has been felt’. His own experience reading Proust before he was able to full appreciate it returned upon reading The Remnants (Wright 2012). The confusing nature of the text can be, admittedly, difficult at times to follow. Only upon a second reading can the true meaning of the text be gaged.
The first chapter of Asylum, which introduces Baba, sets the tone for the novel. ‘The Official’, as Hughes calls the character, asks for Baba’s name. The reader is able to see inside Baba’s mind, as he comments that he ‘only knew a handful of their words’ (Hughes 2016, 3). From the outset there is uncertainty and mystery, as the reader does not know the identity of the Official, just their title, or the true identity of Baba other than what he tells the Official. Baba then ventures into the outside world, where he happens upon the ‘Sanctuary’, a place that is ‘a temple built to resemble a ruin’ (Hughes 2016, 13). It is here that he meets Ash, a barber who wears a white robe, and who tells Baba when he arrives that he will wear the black. They cut the hair of their clients and listen to their stories, before the client