Having been convicted of madness by an unjust court at her husband’s hand, plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is shipped off to the elusive Sanibel Asylum, solitary on its own island and separated from the horrors of the Civil War waging in the world around it. Iris is fiercely certain of her sanity and of the evil behind her husband’s actions, but she finds no sympathy at the asylum. The attendants hear only a lunatic’s ramblings; the esteemed Dr. Cowell remains blind to the concept of a respected man’s deceitfulness while his interest in Iris manifests itself into something more. No one will believe her story; except, perhaps, a young boy and a handsome Confederate soldier, both struggling with demons from their own pasts. In Wendell, the doctor’s son, Iris finds hope in the glimmer of a youth’s judgment as yet untouched by cynicism. In Ambrose Weller, the soldier terrorized by memories of the war, Iris finds love. In his moments of sanity Ambrose is a kind, strong, resourceful man, but when his thoughts are broken into by his memories he helplessly launches into terrorizing fits that recede only with the serenity of the color blue. As the harsh realities of the asylum’s treatments are revealed Iris must plot an escape for herself and Ambrose: an escape into a world ravaged by war, where a chance at happiness may still elude them, and where Ambrose’s maddening demons may yet haunt him.
Bringing an absorbing story together with striking imagery, vivid history and a cast of inspired characters, Blue Asylum creates a truly unique voyage into the art of literary fiction. I found the experience of the novel, the feel of its setting and the uniqueness of its narrative to be especially entertaining. Author Kathy Hepinstall offers a remarkable talent for creating fascinating characters and a depth of artistry that reflects itself in her creative prose. There’s an indiscernible element to Blue Asylum that makes capturing its effect a bit difficult; everything about it seems to stand in such uniqueness that the reader finds themselves searching for new words to describe it. Whatever it is, it contributes to a wonderful result and lends a sense of finality to the novel’s unforgettable power.
In the direness of her circumstances and the drama of her plight, Iris remains a steadfast and essentially unflappable heroine, though I also appreciated that she isn’t without her imperfections of nature as well. She’s a woman fighting a battle she doesn’t fully understand, and Hepinstall shows no hesitation in bringing the realities down on Iris as the story progresses; the author knows what her heroine and her readers can handle, and she delivers just that. One of the many unique things about the book is the narrative: Hepinstall will occasionally break away from one character to allow us into the world of another, and she does this in a way that enriches the novel without confusing its flow. Additionally, her form of writing offers a lyrical, poetic diversion from rule and explores the creativity of thought, something I found very engaging.
I think Blue Asylum is essential to readers who appreciate a significant literary experience, as well as those who enjoy edge-of-your-seat suspense and, of course, timeless romance. It’s a book you’ll want to devour and savor all at once.
Title: Blue Asylum
Author: Kathy Hepinstall
Genre: History, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: April 10, 2012
Provided by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (C/O)
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Better World Books
Connect with the author: Website
Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. Although I received the book free of charge the opinions represented in this review are entirely and authentically my own.