REVIEW: Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
BLUE ASYLUM by Kathy Hepinstall is a vivid picture of an exclusive mental health facility during the American Civil War, where the doctor and his family are more disturbed than some of his patients. When so much is in the news is about women’s rights these days, it’s good to look back at how far we’ve come.
Why was this book in Dorine’s TBR? I have no idea why I purchased this book, or if I received it for free in an Amazon Kindle promotion, but I suspect that it was the cover that drew me to it. I’m also fascinated by the stories of women who were committed to these asylums by their husbands for disobedience. Not really a paranormal theme, but it does have some suspense, but truthfully? Women’s rights violated in our history makes me want to root for the underdog. And, I think it qualifies as horrific, don’t you?
This story begins with Iris, the wife of a southern plantation owner during a dreadful situation. She awakes from a nightmare that’s closer to the truth than we realize, in a jail cell after being declared insane by her husband. Iris is convicted and sent to an asylum on Sanibel Island. Iris hates her husband Robert Dunleavy, and the judge decided that wasn’t proper behavior for a wife.
Iris is not insane. Her husband may make her crazy, but she’s smart enough to know that she’s the normal one and he just wants to control her. She meets the doctor who is well-known for returning patients to their former lives, healed of whatever oddities they came in there for. His methods are mostly noninvasive, except for the dreaded water treatment. The doctor’s wife and son also live on the island.
Soon, Iris has met some of the notorious “guests” at the asylum, such as the woman who eats anything she can put in her mouth, including Iris’ grandmother’s ring. The women and men at the asylum can co-mingle but are strictly forbidden to touch. Iris begins a friendship with Ambrose Weller, a war veteran with terrible rages. They calm one another, but the good doctor doesn’t like it when he sees them kiss.
This book is as much about the doctor’s preteen son, his wife, the hospital’s chef, and various interesting patients and their treatments, as well as Iris and her attraction to Ambrose. It jumps back into the past of each person, illustrating what makes them who they are now. Of course, the full story isn’t told about each of them until the end, so there is a mystery hanging over all their pasts.
The son has no one his age to play with or talk to, so he gets overly involved with the patients. His preoccupation with a certain part of his body is a big focus, since the kid thinks he’s crazy because he can’t leave it alone. I get it. It shows how messed up the father’s relationship is with his son, allowing the boy to run wild across the island without much supervision. But, the boy’s constant attention to his sexual awareness was a bit much.
There are some other gross things that happen, so if you have a queasy stomach, reader beware. They are on an island where nature is wild and invasive.
I had no preconceptions when I picked up this book. I’ve never read this author before, love Civil War stories, and had assumed there would be a romance. Well, there was, but it’s not conventional, nor is the book a HEA, so if you want to read this for the romance, you may be disappointed. It’s classified better as historical fiction, and I think it does an excellent job of illustrating the period in a completely different light than most novels from this time.
Although this is a really good book, I wasn’t expecting such an unhappy end. Oh, there was a glimmer of hope, but I felt let down and a little depressed. I get it that it’s real, as life isn’t all happy, but there are times in my life when a downer just makes me cranky. This is one of those times when I’m dealing with a very sick kitty who I love, and I didn’t really need to be any sadder than I am.
Even with that, I can’t rate it lower because it didn’t meet my expectations. I didn’t research this book further than the cover and the blurb before selecting it for the TBR challenge this month. BLUE ASYLUM is well written, sometimes in a literary style, has a few unexpected surprises revealed at the end, and showcases the author’s talent for setting a scene. I’d most certainly try another book by Kathy Hepinstall, now that I’m forewarned it may not be what I expect.
Off to find something happy and hopeful to read next!
Review by Dorine, courtesy of The Zest Quest. Digital copy purchased for free or at a discount. Find more of my TBR Challenge reviews here.
Blue Asylum Paperback by Kathy Hepinstall
Category: Dark Historical Fiction
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
Rated 4 out of 5