Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published April 10, 2012
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
I didn't quite know what to expect from this book, but I certainly didn't think it would blow me away the way it did. Don't let the cover fool you, this isn't chick lit but literary fiction. It's a story that pulled me in right from the very first paragraph and didn't let go until the last page. I stayed up till the wee hours to finish it!
Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I like to read good fiction and non-fiction books that deal with mental illnesses. So when I read the synopsis of this book I knew I wanted to read it. During the Civil War, Iris Dunleavy is a young plantation wife who strongly opposes her husband's treatment of his slaves. She ends up committing an act that puts her in an asylum situated on an isolated island where she is to be restored to a good wife. The asylum is run by Dr. Cowell who lives on the island with his wife and twelve-year-old boy Wendell. At the asylum, Iris meets Ambrose, a war-haunted Confederate soldier and they fall in love.
First off, I loved Hepinstall's writing. I was excited to know this is not her first novel and I now want to read her other books. She brings the island to life with her description of the fauna and wildlife. As a matter of fact the island is like a character, with its azure sky and white sandy beaches against the backdrop of the razed land and horrors of the Civil War. This setting lures us into thinking that it can shield the patients from their illnesses.
The asylum is populated by a great cast of characters that I truly liked. Dr. Cowell intrigued me as I was never quite sure what his reaction to things would be. I felt for Wendell, who thought he was also crazy but who suffered from loneliness and had no kids to play with. Iris is a strong character, wanting justice yet sometimes naive in how she metes it out. Ambrose is a gentle man broken from what happened during the war and his story is revealed only at the end. What happened to Iris is also revealed a little at a time and fully disclosed as the story heads to its climax. And what an ending!
There is sadness in this story, but it triumphs in its rendition of resilience, hope and acceptance. No matter the loss in one's life, the future can bring the birth of new things. Although the synopsis may seem to indicate this is a romance story, I felt it was more a subtle look at what truly makes us who we are and why. What one person considers insanity, another may see it as the mind's way of coping with unspeakable horrors or injustice. This story left me so thoughtful and contemplative for days after I read it. It is an absorbing read, and I highly recommend it if you want to read a well-written story that captures so well the psychology of humanity.
Note: This book is rated S = sexual scenes, P = mild for two religious expletives
To read other reviews, please visit the TLC Book Tour page.
About the author:Kathy Hepinstall is the author of three previous novels, The House of Gentle Men (a Los Angeles Times bestseller), The Absence of Nectar (a national bestseller), and The Prince of Lost Places. She is an award-winning creative director and advertising writer, whose clients have included top brands in American business. She grew up in Texas.
Visit Kathy at her website, and check out her blog.
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