The Key. By Kathryn Hughes.
If you haven’t yet read anything by Kathryn Hughes I’m incredibly envious. Because you still have the chance to enjoy these stories as a first-time reader. I had previously read The Letter and The Secret and they were both freaking amazing. You know the books that stick with you for months after the actual story has ended? Right! Those! Because of this I pre-ordered The Key and believe me it seemed like a torturous wait.
Once I had the book in my hot little hands there was no holding back. The kids ate two-minute noodles and toast for two consecutive nights and I told my hubby I was sick so I could stay in bed and read (It wasn’t technically a lie, I was SICK of the wait and the book was the cure).
Anyway, I’m getting side tracked here… back to the book.
The Key, has a dual timeline and switches between 1956 and 2006. I would say it seemed to be predominantly the 1956 story line though. So, let’s start there.
1956: Ellen Crosby is a student nurse and begins working at the Ambergate Lunatic Asylum. If I remember correctly she’s about eighteen years of age. On her first day, a new patient is committed and Ellen must check her in. Just like a hotel only with electric shock treatment and shitty living conditions. Ellen immediately feels bonded to the girl, Amy, as she is also eighteen and it is also her first day at the asylum. Although Amy doesn’t look like the other patients it soon becomes clear that she attempted to commit a terrible crime (Should I tell you what it is or should I let you suffer…hmm… nope you might have to read the book I think). Now, in this time period a whole heap of terrible things go down, Things like people getting committed because their family don’t want them or because they have a broken heart or one guy who crashed his bike and was having seizures. Pretty unfair reasons to be locked away for years and sometimes life. Ellen doesn’t agree with lots of the treatments and is considered an annoyance because she continually questions the doctors and more experienced nurses.
Meanwhile… over in 2006: Sarah, a historian, is interested in recording the story of Ambergate before it gets demolished. The place has been closed down for years and although she knows her father has a link to the place, she’s not exactly sure what that link is. He’s unwilling to talk about it and seems a little bit snarky that she’s even poking around the place. We (the reader) really want him to just get over himself and spill all the beans but of course he doesn’t. I mean where is the fun in that? So, Sarah pokes around the old building and finds a KEY!! Yes, that’s the title there folks. With that key, she opens a little door that has been housing a secret stack of patient suit cases. Long forgotten and abandoned. She opens and records the contents of each and every case for research purposes.
When one of those cases gives her a real life address she can’t help but go there. She finds Ellen (remember the nurse from 1956?) She’s obviously much older now and had left Ambergate years before, but what Ellen tells Sarah links everything together. EVERYTHING! Don’t you love it when that happens? But that information really only opens up more cans of worms and I don’t know about you, but I’m not a great fan of worms and what the hell are they doing in cans anyway?
Anyway, full disclosure, I liked the book. BUT, it took me awhile to work out where I was, what time period I was in, who the multiple characters were and what the hell was going on. But once I did, I enjoyed it. Especially all the asylum stories. They were heart breaking and interesting all at the same time. Personally, I liked Kathryn Hughes other two stories better. But that is just personal preference. This was still without a doubt amazing and if you haven’t read any of her work… why are you still here when you could be?