Blue Asylumby Kathy Hepinstall
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published on: April 10, 2012
Page Count: 288
Genre: Adult historical fiction
My Reading Format: Advanced Reading Copy for Kindle from NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover and Adobe Reader for ebook
Note: This is my second recent review about a female main character who bravely stands firm in her beliefs, which are way ahead of the time in which she lives. Clara in Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Iris in Blue Asylum are the kind of characters I really enjoy reading about.
Iris Dunleavy made the mistake of marrying the wrong man. Her husband, Robert, a powerful Virginia plantation owner, assumes he can own his wife much in the same way he owns his slaves. When Iris objects to Robert's treatment of his slaves, she knows she has crossed the line but doesn't change her mind. When Iris discovers one of his dark secrets, Iris joins several slaves in running away. She's caught, put on trial and deemed insane by the judge. Then Robert ships her off to an insane asylum on Sanibel Island. Here she meets an interesting cast of characters: Wendell, the head doctor's young son who becomes a friend and confidant; Ambrose, a Confederate soldier suffering from the atrocities he's seen; and Dr. Cowell, the man in charge who is in charge of each patient's therapy, treatment, recovery, and ultimately, their destiny. As Iris changes hands from one overbearing man to another, she continues to test the limits set before her. Iris causes Dr. Cowell to admit to himself that all the notions he'd deemed true about women, insanity and everything else in his life may not be accurate. Dr. Cowell also comes to realize that by immersing himself in the care of his patients, he has neglected his wife and son.
Hepinstall conveys the frustration Iris feels at being locked away as prisoner, first to her husband, and second to a doctor who Iris feels has misdiagnosed her. In chapter three, Iris says, "I do not belong here. I am here simply for the act of defying my husband, who is a man of most indecent character," while Dr. Cowell maintains that "women...became unhappier the better they were treated" (Chapter 8). Iris knows all along that she's been put in the wrong place and her entire being becomes focused on how to escape from it.
As Iris and Ambrose embark upon a dangerous journey together, they are running away from their past, hoping that those lives don't continue to haunt them. The book leaves readers questioning the choices Iris has made: whether they were the right ones, or whether the choices she made were the only ones she had.
This book causes readers to think about what constitutes mental instability and where the line should be drawn for people to make their own decisions about their destiny, and the amount of control one human should have over another. It's a beautifully described story, and the plot takes readers to some unexpected places.
Four stars out of five