Author: Kathy Hepinstall
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property.
On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris.
The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home.
Review: 4 out of 5 stars
I became interested in the book during one of the many blog hops I participate in. A big portion of the draw of this book, for me, was the institutional setting. And the appealing, lofty view of finding love in an asylum.
I read this book in a weekend. It was so fast-paced, and interesting, that it drew me in, and I wound up walking around my house with the kindle attached to me. The read went so fast, that at one point I realized that the book was half over, and there were still so many questions to be answered, and that I might be disappointed with the outcome.
The story, however, is so very well written. Explaining the monotony of life in an asylum, the injustices that put people there, as well as the treatment of people in asylums by hardened, uncaring staff. While learning the backstory of every character in the book, the author only eeks out Ambrose's story bit by bit. Many times I thought, this couldn't have been the reason he ended up in an asylum, only to learn a bit more and say the same thing again, with the same result.
Events in the book seemed to lead up to a climatic point, only to fizzle out in completion. The escape part of the story was sort of a letdown after everything that had previously happened.
What happened after the escape seemed a bit forced. As I said, there was so much back story that when it got to the escape part, there wasn't any book left.
I did find that in the end, Ambrose's story was told well. We finally discovered what had damaged his mind to the point of being sent to an institution in the first place, and his character and reactions of a "free man" were no less than one would escape from such a gentle soul as Ambrose.
I had a harder time identifying, even liking the main character of the story, Iris. I got the injustice of it all, and the unfairness, and how the entire situation must have been maddening to her. There was just something in the character that I did not like. Maybe it was everyone falling in love with her, or that she was just so terribly wronged that it made her hardened,, but I just had a hard time liking her.
I'm trying not to give away the story, as I do believe the best part of the story is after they escape from the asylum. Maybe because the end of the novel had her recreating a scene from Wizard of Oz, which I felt was so cliche and not a fitting ending to the story told.
This was a wonderful book that I will most likely read again and again, probably with a more keener eye than before because I know the end, it might help me like the heroine a bit more, or understand character's behaviors better.
Disclosure: I received this book as a prize from Blood, Sweat, and Books.