Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Blue Asylum, by Kathy Hepinstall

You would think that a book about life in an asylum during the Civil War would focus on the horrible conditions and mistreatment of the patients. Blue Asylum, while it does contain a bit of this unpleasant life, isn't really about that at all.

Iris Dunleavy has been sent to Sanabel Asylum because she wasn't a proper wife for her husband. We slowly find out exactly what actions prompted this court order, so I won't get into specifics here.

Suffice it to say, she isn't crazy. And, in fact, she is so sane that throughout the story she changes the lives of several other characters. Sanabel Asylum is run by Dr. Cowell, who lives on the island with his wife and young son, Wendell. You can imagine this is a very strange life for a young boy, to be isolated on this island.

Iris becomes friends with Ambrose who is suffering from PTSD from his experiences in the Civil War. This is how the reader gets the historical aspect of the novel, through Ambrose's eyes, as we slowly learn his story.

There are other characters that add to the richness of the setting and plot -- Mary, the wife of Dr. Crowell, the horrible matron who mistreats the patients, other patients such as the woman who swallows things and the woman who refuses to believe her husband is dead, and the chef, who is Wendell's only friend.

The pacing is slow, but steady. Blue Asylum creeps up on you and I found myself thinking about it when I was away from the book. There are some abrupt changes in the point of view, but this may have been because of the ebook ARC format, and hopefully will not be a problem with proper spacing and formatting in the final copy.

The best thing about Blue Asylum is the language. Hepinstall can really turn a phrase. I don't want to quote too much (although I could) because this is an ARC and subject to editing, but here's a small example: "A thought was coming around the corner, headed right toward him." These creative phrasings are all throughout the book and I enjoyed the language very much.

The ending is both heartbreaking and uplifting, and believable. While the historical part of Blue Asylum isn't the main focus, there's a good story here, including a bit of romance, adventure, and mostly characters to care about.

This is an adult book, and as such, I think it has limited appeal to teens. Those specifically interested in this period in history, may enjoy Blue Asylum. I would not hesitate to recommend Blue Asylum to adults who enjoy historical fiction and beautiful language.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 10, 2012
eBook obtained from NetGalley
288 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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  1. This sounds like an interesting book. I'm adding it to my TBR list, so thanks for the recommend!

  2. I love historical fiction and beautiful language :) Thanks for putting this on my radar.


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