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Publisher's Summary

The Salpêtrière Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated - these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. 

For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball - the Madwomen’s Ball - when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpêtrière dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.

Geneviève is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister, Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugénie, the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. 

Because Eugénie has a secret: She sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits, Eugénie is determined to escape from the asylum - and the bonds of her gender - and seek out those who will believe in her. And for that she will need Geneviève's help.

©2021 Victoria Mas. Original French edition © 2019 Éditions Albin Michel, Paris. English translation © Frank Wynne. Published in 2021 by the Overlook Press, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York. All rights reserved. (P)2021 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about The Mad Women’s Ball

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Fascinating

This was an excellent story and the narrator brought it to life.
I learned interesting items from a time period I knew nothing about.

1 person found this helpful

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  • SL
  • 11-29-21

Disappointing

After hearing so much about this book, I was looking forward to digging into it. I'm not sure what I was expecting but the story left me puzzled. I did like the main characters, the descriptions of the hospital world, learning about the treatment of women and mental illness in the late 19th century and these women's inner life. I was puzzled by the introduction of the supernatural. And how short the book is. I found it quite pointless. I wanted to read more about how these women help and support each other in this increasingly sexist world of men; more about the medical science and antiquated beliefs around "hysteria." I guess I wanted a longer book? I also didn't love how simplistic and black/white the book was. All the women are nearly perfect and all the men are callous and misogynist (except maybe Eugenie's brother but he is quite the coward). I expected more nuance and complexity.

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Moving performance

This is a gorgeous listen. Unexpected sisterhood and a search for peace despite the hopelessness of the situation these women find themselves in. Kristin Atherton's pacing & care easily lend to the beauty, hope, and despair in these voices.

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Beautiful!

I loved this book. Beautifully written and narrated. I enjoyed it very much. Great work.