The Mad Women’s Ball

Title: The Mad Women’s Ball (original title: Le Bal Des Folles)

Writer: Victoria Mas (translated by Frank Wynne)

Publishing House: Harry N. Abrams

Date of Publication: September 7th 2021 (first published August 21st 2019)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’They imagine naked women running through the corridors, banging their heads against tilled walls, spreading their legs to welcome their imaginary lover, howling at the top of their lungs from dawn until dusk.’’

Paris is the City of Light, of Love and Joy. But these words are forbidden to the women who are locked behind the walls of Salpetrière. Abandoned by fathers, husbands, brothers, forsaken by society, they have found themselves in the asylum where they are paraded and ‘’examined’’ for the ‘’sake of Science’’. Locked in a prison of a different kind, Geneviève supervises the wards, wearing an impenetrable armour, fighting her own demons. When a young woman, a member of the upper class, is brought to the asylum for communicating with spirits, Geneviève will have to question everything she has taken for granted.

‘’Place Pigalle. A lamplighter reaches up with his long pole to kindle the gas mantles of a streetlamp. The rain has ceased. The pavements are wet and water still trickles from the drainpipes. At the windows, people shake rainwater from shutters while merchants and cafe workers jab at canvas awning with their broom handles to disgorge the water that has collected there. The lamplighter crosses the square and continues his twilight rounds.’’

In this marvellous novel, Victoria Mas highlights the dark side of Paris beyond the splendour and the wealth, two women represent Science and Spirituality, Reason and Faith. In their faces and in the personal stories of the women of the asylum, years and years and years of male cruelty are reflected. They are the Others, prostitutes, mad, disobedient, neurotic, hysterical, diabolical. Every adjective is used against them to denote that they are gangrenous limbs that have to be cut off the perfect body of society. Abandoned and betrayed by their families, left to rot. Geneviève, Eugénie, Louise, Thérèse. Each woman is one of us…

An atmospheric novel that doesn’t fall into the trap of the “Historical Fiction grandiose complex”. Instead, it focuses on the dynamics between the women who have been ostracised by men, labelled as “monsters” and locked away to die in oblivion…

“The women of Salpetrière were no longer pariahs whose existence had to remain hidden, but entertainment, thrust into the limelight without a flicker of regret.”