Book Review: From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon

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Reviewed by Emerian Rich

For: Readers who enjoy Gothic Literature like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Content warning: baby death, mental illness, harm to animals, gaslighting

From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon is an emotional trek through one lady’s experience with losing her child at birth and how she is mistreated by her husband, mother-in-law, and eventually a hotel they ship her off to.

From Daylight Cover full gold - Jennifer GordonIsabelle is a young wife in the 1870s who has suffered a terrible tragedy. She’s given birth to a son who dies just after he is born. Her controlling husband and mother-in-law do not allow her to see him or even say goodbye. They take the body God knows where and force her to clean up the blood after the tragedy. They don’t allow a grave marker or any sort of service for him. He was not alive, he did not have a name. They keep her drugged up on laudanum and complain that she doesn’t “mourn properly.” 

Finding she can no longer bear children and won’t pop out of her sadness, they send her on a “holiday” at an institution masquerading as a seaside hotel. At the hotel, things go from bad to worse when she meets a cast of characters with real mental problems. One gal, in particular, is deeply twisted.

All things are not horrible at the hotel, however. Isabelle is able to get out from under her husband and mother-in-law’s thumb and experience a little freedom–something she’s never had in her entire life. She also meets another hotel guest who shows her kindness and a little romance blooms in their shared misery.

First, a warning. For readers who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or baby death, this book may be too much for you. The author does a really great job of getting inside Isabelle’s head and making the reader feel the impact of her baby’s death. She is basically haunted–not by a real ghost, but by her grief. She hears her baby’s cry in her head and reminisces frequently about not being able to hold him or say goodbye. She even carries a hatbox with her that she imagines holds him in it, so he is by her side always. 

Passages like… 

“…death had kissed her insides and left her rotting…”

“…Isabelle felt like a fancy dress…poorly made…different parts of her…separating and being held together by straight pins…” 

“…birth leaving her womb nothing more than a tattered old book of gruesome tales better left untold…”

…weave such deep and expressive imagery it’s hard not to put yourself in her place.

The exquisite writing in this book takes place inside Isabelle’s head as she compares the cups of tea and laudanum scattered about the house to little tombstones of her grief, the only sign that her baby ever existed because he did not get a tombstone. 

As a modern woman reading her story it’s difficult because the way others gaslight her is just agonizing. I was infuriated with how her husband and mother-in-law paint a narrative that is unfair and harmful to her. They pass that narrative off to the hotel employees who then drill in the narrative, causing her to constantly question them and herself.

*She had a stillborn, but no…he lived! She heard him crying. 

*She isn’t mourning, but yes she is if anyone was paying attention. 

*She was abandoned by her parents and now has been abandoned again, but no…her parents died, they didn’t mean to leave her. 

People don’t allow her to speak her truth and it made me want to travel to that hotel and make things right. But in the same instance, I know entering the hotel I would just be another casualty hushed up, drugged, and put on the porch to sleep with the other patients, I mean…vacationers.

Although meant for wellness, the island hotel seems a spooky place where spiked tea and her own mental state cause her to lose time and survive in a dream-like state where she isn’t sure what is real or not. She finds a little graveyard of babies there, the truth of that place never fully understood. The hotel is a character itself, akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…sunny and bright one moment but hiding dark, dirty secrets the next.

I have to say, I like this book because of how much it jarred me. I went into it hoping to see some ghosts in a haunted hotel but came out of it bloodied by the emotional trip I took with Isabelle. It made me uncomfortable and scarred. If you can handle the harrowing journey, it will be a book you remember for a long time. Just make sure your mental state is strong enough to handle it, tea+laudanum on standby.

One thought on “Book Review: From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon

  1. Pingback: Fall update 2022 | emz unplugged

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