Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property.On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residentssome seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris.The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom. http://www.hmhbooks.com/blueasylum/
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.44(w) x 7.88(h) x 0.70(d)|
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.
Read an Excerpt
WHEN IRIS DREAMED of that morning, the taste of blood was gone, and so was the odor of gun smoke, but her other senses stayed alive. The voices around her distinct. The heel of a bare foot between her ribs. The pressure of the pile of bodies on her chest. Was this what the others had felt too, as they died around her? Her dream followed the reality so well that when the bodies were yanked away from her, one by one, the weight released and the darkness cleared, and she jerked upright, gasping, on the floor of a jail cell in Fort Lane. She'd been given a blanket and nothing else, not even a pillow, for she had been judged insane even before the trial began, and her jailers followed the logic that the mad shunned the comforts of the rational. When she awoke on the floor, on that cold blanket, she thought first of the man who had murdered those innocent people by the barely crawling light of dawn, but her rage held down something deeper, something that searched for oxygen to speak.
Her trial lasted less than an hour. The judge didn't want to hear her story. None of it mattered: The wayward turkeys that ran into the woods. The porcelain tub full of bloody water. The pale, blue-eyed baby. The two small graves. Her fate had already been decided. She was convicted and sentenced and put on a train to Savannah with an armed guard, from there sent on a series of trains going west, and when the tracks ran out she was taken by open-air coach to the port at Punta Rassa.
On the last leg of her journey, she set sail for Sanibel Island on the Scottish Chief, which also carried a hundred head of cattle. She had been allowed to bathe and put on a traveling dress with ornamental braids and her best spoon bonnet. She had even been allowed to bring her best clothes with her in a steamer trunk. But she had not been allowed to tell the story that would have excused or at least explained her actions.
The ship was stifling hot. The scent of the cattle rose up from the hull below her, their excrement and fear. She smoothed her hair and tried to steady her breathing. She looked out to the calm flat sea and tried to be just as calm and flat herself, so that others could see there had been a mistake.
This feeling of hatred for her husband, Robert Dunleavy, had to be contained. The judge had seen it, and it had influenced him. Frightened him, even. Wives were not supposed to hate their husbands. It was not in the proper order of things. And so she worked on this too, buried the hatred, for now, in an area of Virginia swampland where the groundwater was red.
The lows of restless cattle came up through the floorboards. They would go on to Havana, where they would be slaughtered.
"How much longer?" she asked the guard.
The ship churned slowly through the water. A large bird dived at the surface and came back up with a struggling fish. She nodded, her lids closing, and took refuge in a gray-blue sleep.
She awakened as the ship was docking.
"We're here," said the guard.
She stood and he bound her hands in front of her with a silk scarf.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Regulations."
He took her wrist gently and led her out to the gangplank, where she paused, amazed at the sight. Beautiful white sand beaches stretched into the distance. Palmettos grew on the vegetation line, and a sprawl of morning glories lay, still open, on the dunes. Coconut palms flanked the perimeter of the building itself, a huge two-story revival with Doric columns and tiered wings that jutted out on either side. A courtyard had been landscaped with straight columns of Spanish dagger. On the building, a sign:
SANIBEL ASYLUM FOR LUNATICS
A judge had signed the order. A doctor had taken her pulse and looked into her eyes and asked her a series of questions and confirmed that yes, something in her mind was loose and ornery, like a moth that breaks away from the light and hides instead in the darkness of a collar box. The heat made her shudder. Her dress was wet in the back. She moved her eyes away from the sign and noticed a blond boy and a large Negro man fishing in the surf. Both of them stared at her. The man was so black he made the pale boy beside him look like a ghost. The boy kept touching something on his cheek.
"Time to head in, ma'am," the guard said, and for just a moment she thought of hurling herself into the water and letting the folds of her traveling dress pull her down to the bottom. She shook off the thought, steeled herself, and gingerly made her way forward, difficult as it was to balance with her hands tied in front of her.
The blond boy, whose name was Wendell, had been fishing for snook with the chef, a freed Negro from Georgia, who was using his prized snakewood baitcaster. The chef was fishing and talking, fishing and talking, fishing and talking, a rhythm he had perfected through the years. His topic of conversation, on this morning, was his castor bean garden — his latest attempt at growing wealthy overnight — and he would have succeeded already if a rare frost hadn't killed the plants this past winter. Federal prisoners in Tortuga were dropping dead left and right from yellow fever. The treatment: castor oil. His new batch of castor beans was hardy, and although they covered just a half-acre at present, he had plans for expansion.
Overhead, a brown pelican circled.
"Of course I don't wish yellow fever on any man," the chef said.
Wendell wasn't listening. He'd just caught a glimpse of the ship. "It's a side-wheeler," he announced.
The chef pressed his lips together, annoyed by the interruption. He followed Wendell's gaze.
"Scottish Chief. That's Summerlin and McKay's ship. It's probably taking more cattle to the Bahamas."
The side-wheeler steamer approached the dock.
"Why is it stopping here?" Wendell asked.
"I heard we got a new one."
"Oh?" Wendell cocked his head slightly to one side, his way of showing intrigue. "Maybe it's a really crazy one." Those were Wendell's favorites; lunatics were captivating, and the crazier the better. He had lived around them all his life, because his father was the superintendent and chief psychiatrist of the asylum. Wendell believed he was crazy himself, and it was only a matter of time before it was discovered in him and he was locked away with the others. He watched the boat, his eyes wide and drying out in the sea air. The end of his cane pole dipped downward.
"Look, boy," said the chef. "You got one!"
The pole jerked and danced in Wendell's hands. He pulled back too hard. A weighted hook, still with half the bait on, came flying and landed in Wendell's cheek. He sucked in his breath as the hook stuck fast, the fishing line trailing off into the wind. Blood ran down in a trickle from the new puncture. He was hooked good now, good as any fish.
"You did it again," the chef muttered, shaking his head as he cut the line to free him. "Third time this year. You must have a magnet in your head somewhere. Go in and find someone to cut that hook out of you."
Wendell wasn't listening. His head was cocked again. The fishhook dangled from his cheek. A woman had appeared on the gangplank. Slender and pale, chestnut-colored hair gathered in a chignon. Properly attired in a dress and white gloves. A single white feather adorned her bonnet. Her hands were tied in front of her.
"She looks just like any other person," Wendell said.
"Lunatics have a way of blending in, like green snakes in the grass. Go on in, now. Your blood is scaring off the fish."
"She can't be crazy!" Wendell insisted.
She seemed to hear him, turning her head toward him, staring at him a long moment. He froze. The trickle of blood slowed and dried in a new breeze.
"You best stay away from the patients," the chef said. "Remember what happened before, with Miss Penelope."
The hook had stung a bit, but the name hurt him deeper. The chef's baritone had evoked it without warning. The name had a barb on it, too. Instantly he remembered Penelope's freckled skin, her long red hair, which she refused to tie back, her crystal-blue eyes and perpetual half-smile, the doll in a pinafore dress she carried around with her. His father was not inclined to tell him anything about the patients and had instructed the nurses and guards to be equally reticent around the boy. So Wendell gleaned information by eavesdropping on fragments of conversation. Penelope was from New England and suffered from a sadness of indeterminate origin that had evidently driven her, one night, to attempt to hang herself with the sash of her nightgown. After the finest doctors in Boston had failed to conceive of a cure, her family had sent her to the island in the desperate belief that sunlight and the fragrance of tropical flowers could restore some kind of radiance to her sad, addled brain. She was seventeen years old, and had God not killed her, she could have grown to be an old woman, and Wendell an old man, so old that the gap in their ages would mean nothing.
Wendell looked back at the woman on the gangplank. He stroked the hook in his cheek until another bead of blood appeared and ran down to his chin. He wiped off the gore, looked at it.
The name still hurt him. No one had cut it out of him yet.
Iris stepped off the gangplank and onto dry sand, the short heels of her leather boots crunching in it. Above her, white birds circled, shrieking down at her. A tear slid down her cheek before she could stop it. Annoyed, she bent her head and shrugged her shoulder to wipe the tear away. As she approached the courtyard she saw what wasn't visible from a distance. The windows had bars on them.
A dozen people milled about the courtyard, guarded by attendants in white uniforms. One young man sat alone at a small round table set up near the steps. He had high cheekbones and was dressed in army-issued pants, a white shirt, and a thin coat. He wore a slouch hat. A checkerboard sat in front of him, set for a game. He looked up as she approached him. Something about his gaze was comforting. He glanced at her bound hands and nodded, as though remembering his own hands had once been tied that way. The man did not seem insane. Only deeply sorrowful. And if sorrow were a diagnosable offense, perhaps she was mad after all.
The man at the checkers table, Ambrose Weller, had watched the new patient come down the gangplank and make her way through the sand. He could tell she was a stranger to the coast, some genteel woman from further up South, completely out of her element. The way she moved, so dignified and calm, as though on a Sunday walkabout, reminded him of graceful sea birds he had seen after a storm, washed up on the beach, wings broken, wounded, and yet still attempting the gait characteristic of their species.
He had arrived on the island screaming and cursing, four strong men restraining him. He had to be carried all the way to his room and tied to his bed, dosed with laudanum until the visions faded into the sweet syrup of delirious forgetfulness, and his mind finally let go of its torments in the same reluctant way a child surrenders his playmates to the call of his mother.
He thought about the woman, remembering a time when he could, clearheaded, desire one. Then some bolt of memory reminded him that nothing was the same anymore. Dr. Cowell, the psychiatrist, had told him that the secret was not so much in forgetting as in distracting oneself. Think of the color blue, the doctor had suggested. Blue, nothing else. Blue ink spilling on a page. A blue sheet flapping on a clothesline. Blue of blueberries. Of water. Of a vase a feather a shell a morning glory a splash on the wing of a pileated woodpecker. Blue that knows nothing, blue of blank recollection, blue of a baby's eyes, a raindrop in a spider's web, a vein that runs from hand to wrist, the moon in scattered light, the best part of a dream and the sky, the sky, the sky ...
ELEANOR BEACON, who was from a prominent Irish family in Baltimore, suffered from an uncontrollable and persistent imagining of the pains and sorrows of every creature on the Earth. She would not eat breakfast, as the slab of bacon was once a pig who cringed at a falling ax, and the eggs evoked a vision of the crestfallen hen, her future chicks stolen right out from under her. At night Eleanor imagined kittens calling to her from the bottom of imaginary wells; dolphins performing tricks in solitary waters with no one to clap; orphaned fawns, stepped-upon ants; birds that crashed into windows, turtles left on their backs by merciless children. Dr. Henry Cowell, head psychiatrist at the Sanibel Asylum, had worked with her patiently and had made considerable progress. But now she was back on the subject of that patient horse she used to see in Baltimore, pulling a carriage full of rowdy tourists in the heat of the summer.
Dr. Cowell was no stranger to the madness of women. In fact, he specialized in their treatment. But now he was growing tired of lunacy in general and Eleanor Beacon in particular.
He sat behind his desk and fondled the gold pocket watch that hung from his waist. Ten minutes left. Ten minutes of arguing that the natural world was a wound whose scab could not help but be broken. Jellyfish evaporated on the beach, dogs died under the porch, hermit crabs ate crustaceans and themselves were eaten by raccoons, which themselves might fall prey to an osprey. The circle of life was not a mad killer. It simply was round.
"The horse was doing its job," he said. "Horses have roles, just like people. Men have roles. And so do women. You have a role, Mrs. Beacon. Your role is back home at your husband's side."
"My husband is cruel. He kills spiders that are minding their own business."
A knock at the door. A nurse entered. "Dr. Cowell, the boat with the new patient is approaching the dock."
Dr. Cowell was grateful for the interruption. He nodded to the nurse, his signal to lead the patient away, even though the session was not quite over.
"The tourists were fat," Eleanor insisted, as she rose from the chair, clutching her handkerchief. "That poor, poor horse."
"Roles, Mrs. Beacon," he said. He turned toward the window, loosening his cravat as the door closed. This time of morning the sunlight was perfect for clarity but not steep enough to make him squint. His office was situated on the second story of the asylum, just above the foyer. The spiral staircase leading up to it lent the perfect sense of grandeur and dignity that should accompany any audience with him. He could gaze out the window, as he did now, at madness on the ground level — so much more tolerable from above, lunatics sunning themselves in the courtyard or collecting shells on the beach under the watchful eyes of the guards.
His son, Wendell, and the black chef fished side by side, knee-deep in the blue water. The doctor himself was too impatient to fish, too easily burned by the sun, too tempting for mosquitoes and the biting midges that plagued him when the winds calmed. And yet he felt a stab of envy, watching the two of them, their rapport obvious by their postures and how closely they stood. He wished he could be a chef, he thought, as a wave of self-pity washed over him. How simple and predictable a job that was. The equation of salt to meat never varied; there were no surprises or screams or delusions involved in the thickening of custard or the steepening of broth.
Trained in his native England and influenced by the benevolent reformists of the York Asylum, the doctor was accustomed to establishing a rapport with a patient and then calmly building a case against their lunacy, guiding them back to their senses by dint of logic and persuasion. He dazzled himself with his own arguments, taking as his greatest satisfaction those moments when he could see the rational part of a lunatic, hidden so far, reveal itself in his office. He then nurtured that part, fostered it, treated it like the chef treated his precious castor bean plants. And only in the most desperate cases did he employ the application of cold water to startle patients from their madness. It was not punishment. It was merely a somatic incentive that, when judiciously applied, could be very effective. It didn't hurt them — no, there was never a mark on the lunatics. Their screams, he cautioned the staff, were not screams of pain, but merely the sound put off by their sudden leap of progress, like a puff of steam from a locomotive engine as it takes its maiden voyage to the west.
Excerpted from "Blue Asylum"
Copyright © 2012 Kathy Hepinstall.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"What sets Blue Asylum apart is Hepinstall’s luscious prose and the tension within each character that keeps the reader maddeningly off balance...Hepinstall makes inspired use of the Civil War as a means to explore notions of freedom, courage and, especially, opposing principals that both prevent and create change. Battle scenes, glimpsed briefly in Ambrose’s excruciating flashbacks, deliver knockout punches of quiet horror all the more affecting for their subtlety."
"A fine novel embroidered with rich imagery."
"Features excellent pacing and strong character development that animate not only the inmates at the Sanibel Asylum but the characters from the preasylum lives of Iris and Ambrose. A first-rate choice for fans of intelligent historical romances."
—Library Journal, starred review
"Hepinstall exquisitely illustrates the fate of societal outsiders in this richly compelling Civil War–era tale of the former mistress of a Virginia plantation, now confined to a beautiful island asylum, and her burgeoning love for a traumatized Confederate soldier... Deftly interweaving past and present, Hepinstall sets the struggles of her characters against the rigidity of a traditional Southern society and the brutality of war in an absorbing story that explores both the rewards and perils of love, pride, and sanity itself."
"A deep sense of the natural world, often-lyrical prose, and some touches of southern Gothic help carry along this tale of obsession and redemption."
"With Blue Asylum, Kathy Hepinstall presents the reader with the rare and delicious quandary of whether to race through and find out what happens to her characters or to linger over her vivid, beautifully crafted sentences. For me, the only resolution was to read it twice."
—Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke
"Blue Asylum is a gripping story of love and madness in the midst of the Civil War—I couldn’t put it down!"
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"Blue Asylum casts a spell that keeps the reader turning pages as if in a trance. The language is lyrical but the plot is taut and compelling. The horrors of the Civil War are made real and specific in the story of the wounded soldier and the persecuted wife who find love and hope in the unlikely setting of a supposedly enlightened insane asylum on an isolated island in the Deep South. Kathy Hepinstall is a master storyteller in full command of her craft."
—Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of A Woman of Independent Means
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An ill wind blows through this book and nothing bodes well for anyone. War is certainly hell but there's only so much suffering a reader can withstand. Misery is the common thread that binds these characters and also sums up the plot. Metaphors abound and become as tiresome as the eternal suffering. Wish I had not indulged.
This was a huge insight into the civil war era life for women. In the modern day world we forget just how different life was for the women before us and before we had a voice. The premise of the book was the main reason I bought the book and it was not disappointing. The story moved slowly at times but kept me wanting to read more. This is not an uplifting positive read but is a book that all women must read in order to appreciate how amazing our place in society is today.
If you are looking for a book to read on the beach or just to while away a quiet afternoon, that will draw you in and beckon you back, this is it. Written with a prose that is at once simple and yet profound, as it deftly describes the atmosphere, in the luxury asylum for lunatics where Iris Dunleavy has been sent by her husband, this book won’t disappoint you. It is an illuminating vision of what life was like for a woman who opposed a husband in a position of authority, when she had none. Iris is a soft spoken, but impulsive and determined woman. During the time of the Civil War, the women of the south were really under the control of their husbands, as were the slaves on their plantations, and, they too, were expected to be obedient and subservient to them. It was often the treatment of headstrong women, to be sent to lunatic asylums by their more powerful, cruel and arrogant husbands, in order to prevent them from embarrassing them, or themselves, by engaging in activities they deemed not respectable or proper for a lady. Engaging in women’s right’s movements or the politics of the day, was frowned upon, and thought to be unladylike subjects unfit for the delicate mind and constitution of women. Defying one's husband, especially in a public situation, was an absolutely humiliating affront to him and was, generally, not tolerated. Immediately, on the first page, the readers are drawn into the story as they watch Iris as she stands on the deck of the ship taking her to the asylum in Virginia. Her back is straight and he demeanor calm. Her first thoughts are of the beauty of the location as she draws near. She sees a child and a black man, the son of the doctor who is the head of the asylum and the chef, fishing off the pier. She watches a young man, Ambrose, a former soldier suffering from the trauma of war, as he sits quietly before a checker board and appears quite normal. The relationship that blooms between Iris and Ambrose is a major theme. The book makes you wonder, who is mad, who is sane, who gets to decide? Is Dr. Cowell fit to be the judge or is he just as mad as his patients? What motivates him? Is it his ego or his desire to return these people to the outside world again? Are the people who are employed there just a little mad also, or are they the victims of the madness surrounding them? Are the patients mad or has the environment they have been subjected to created the mental illness? Are women weak and frail, unfit to participate in the activities of men? Did Iris behave like a woman who has lost her sanity? Is Iris Dunleavy mad or is she simply the victim of her husband's authority? This book is very intense. Near the end I was almost afraid to read on, fearful of the conclusion. I wondered if it would be happy, sad, gruesome? The author builds up the pressure until you feel afraid to turn the page for fear of what you will read. Although the ending is completely unexpected, I found it a little bit disappointing. On the whole, though, this is an imaginative, creative and original story. The chapters are short and easy to read. You won’t lose interest, because when you feel you might, the subject changes, just at the right time, and the story continues to hold your attention. Can mental illness be cured? Can mistakes be forgiven? Can love conquer all? On the very last page, there is a scene with a lady who dances with a husband who isn’t really there. She imagines him into life. Is this the message of the book? Is she better off than those who live in misery, missing the person that isn’t there, the appendage that isn’t there, yearning for something unattainable? How do we find happiness? Did the doctor’s own arrogance and narcissism cause the events that transpired? The story will make you wonder what madness is, and who, indeed, is mad? In the 1800’s, psychiatry was in its infancy, the methods were untried and untested, the treatments were sometimes barbaric. Have we made any progress today or have we merely given the diagnoses, treatments and medications a different name? This book definitely packs a wallop and it will remain with you for a long time. As an aside, if you enjoy this book, you might also want to see the film, "Iron Jawed Angels". It is a wonderful movie about the women who fought for the right to vote in the early 1900's, and the men who ruled over them, having them imprisoned indefinitely in asylums, as punishment for their outspoken behavior, believing this would cure them and return them to their conciliatory state of mind. Their pride was more important than their wives independence; even those that were well loved were mishandled in this way.
a good read.
BLUE ASYLUM by Kathy Hepinstall is an interesting Historical Fiction set post Civil War. It has Civil War horrors,sanity,madness, plantation life as you follow Iris Dunleavy through her times of trials and the thin lines between sanity and madness. Iris Dunleavy is a plantation owner’s wife on trial for madness,and sent to an Asylum because her husband wants Iris to obey his every word. He is not only a cruel husband and land owner but expects to get his way in all things. Iris is sent to an Asylum where she finds not only insanity but friends. Enter Ambrose,a wounded soldier,also in the Asylum. With a wounded soldier,a spirited but wounded women a seemingly impossible love,lost,grief,a call for freedom, and the need to escape the atrocities of war. The Asylum has a group of residents that will call to your heart as they try to make sense of the world around them and their lost of innocence. A charming and absorbing tale of love lost,love found, and the courage to begin again. Received for an honest review from the publisher.Details can be found at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,the author’s website,and My Book Addiction and More. RATING: 4 HEAT RATING:Sweet: No sex or scenes of physical intimacy except some kissing. No graphic violence or profanity. REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More
The premise of this novel is what attracted me to it. I thoroughly enjoy reading historical fiction with unique settings. Blue Asylum, however, has much more depth than a story set in a mental institution. Certainly, there are fascinating inmates – the woman who swallows small items, a cruel matron, a charming woman who imagines her husband is still alive and with her – but the story is much richer than that. Not only does it depict the powerlessness of women in that era, but it delves into themes of post traumatic stress syndrome, tragedy, hope, and resilience. More importantly, at the heart is an endearing love story. This novel is believable and richly detailed with fascinating characters, plenty of heartbreak, and inspiration.
This is a good book. The locale, period, and circumstances were excellent. It was a thought-provoking and compelling story.
I enjoyed this novel by Kathy Hepinstall. Set during the Civil War. Iris Dunleavy the main character, was a plantation owner's wife who dared to speak her mind. Her thoughts and opinions on slavery eventually managed to get her tried and convicted of insanity. Iris is eventually sent to Sanibel Island in Florida where she will meet a set of interesting characters. At the asylum, Iris believes she can prove to the staff and head doctor that she is not insane and that she was wrongly committed to the asylum. She is so desparate for someone to listen to her and hopefully send word home to her Mother and Father who have no idea what had been going on in her married life and that she had been committed to the asylum. The only person who really listened to her was a troubled confederate solider named Ambrose Weller and the doctor's son, Wendell. Iris and Ambrose eventually fall in love and set out on a journey together with hopes of leaving behind their past and the asylum forever. I would recommend this novel. I have to say I do feel a bit let down with the ending but I understand why the author had to go that way. flag
Loved it! A great read.
What is normal? Who gets to decide what is outside the bounds of normal? The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)? The courts? Society? Family? The person him or herself? Not so long ago, women's defined mental states were entirely at the mercy of their families, fathers, husbands, male children, etc. More completely sane, smart, independent, and freethinking women were committed to mental institutions based on the testimony of the disgruntled men in their lives than ever should have been.In Kathy Hepinstall's gripping novel, Blue Asylum, set during the American Civil War, main character Iris Dunleavy is sent to an insane asylum on Sanibel Island because she has turned out to be an embarrassment to her husband, defying him, and disagreeing with him on fundamental moral issues, including the issue of slavery which was rending the entire country apart. She has been committed to the asylum on the say so of her husband, whom she knows to be amoral and guilty of a heinous crime, and a judge, who clearly discounts a woman's tale, even one told in truth. And she arrives on the island remanded to the care of a pompous and self-involved doctor who is incapable or unwilling to listen to her and to hear the truth of her story. It would be enough to drive any sane person crazy. But quiet, observant Iris is made of stronger stuff than most. She befriends the doctor's young son Wendell and, improbably enough, falls in love with a fellow inmate, Ambrose Weller, a soldier who suffers terrible attacks and rage as a result of his experiences in the war and who can only sometimes be soothed by invoking the idea of the calming color blue.Both Iris' and Ambrose's stories tease out through the narrative, slowly drawing the reader into the awful horrors in their pasts that caused them to end up in Sanibel Asylum even as their future quietly and cautiously unspools before them. Dr. Cowell's past experiences and the tragedy in Wendell's young life are also carefully revealed, offering both of these secondary characters motivation for their actions towards the "lunatics," and specifically Iris and Ambrose. As Iris falls for Ambrose, she decides she must include him in her plans to escape the island, certain that her love will be able to cure him in ways that Dr. Cowell's techniques have not yet managed. And yet despite her desire to leave and to be with her love, can Iris really reintegrate herself in a society that has locked her away without a second thought? And can Ambrose overcome the terrible moment that destroyed him, breaking the grip the war has on his mind and memories?Hepinstall has written a fantastic, short novel about the place of women in the 1860's, questions of sanity and morality, the horrors of war, and of love and truth. Her characters are wonderfully real and well rounded. The smooth, even pace of the novel is perfect, sweeping the reader along as Iris, Ambrose, Wendell, and Dr. Cowell interact in concert and at cross-purposes as they move towards their inevitable conclusion. The evocative writing makes the buggy, humid, lush environs of Sanibel Island come alive as a place just far enough removed from the war raging on the mainland that it seems isolated and almost untouched by the turmoil except in small key ways, like the inability to get supplies, especially meat, in a timely manner. Sanibel Asylum is a time out of place just as the people incarcerated there are a people out of accepted society. This is definitely a book not to be missed.
I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved Blue Asylum. I had never read anything by Kathy Hepinstall before but the premise of this novel attracted me to it so I entered a contest and won it. Thank heaven I did because this is undoubtedly going to be on my Top 10 list this year.The story is about a woman named Iris Dunleavy. She is the daughter of a minister who grew up in Virginia, is courted by a visitor from further south, and marries him. The Civil War is going on, but so far she has felt little repercussion from that war. Her husband takes her home to his plantation but before going to the main house he stops the wagon at the family cemetery, takes her by the hand to his parents' graves, and says, "Here she is." Uh-oh. Right there you know something isn't right with this man, and this isn't going to end well.I'll skip over the fascinating story of how this happens (no spoilers here) but Iris ends up being declared insane and sent to a lunatic asylum on Sanibel Island. Yes, that Sanibel Island. Most of the book details her life on Sanibel, the doctor and staff, the other patients, and finally the doctor's thoughtful and kind12 year old son, Wendell, who becomes Iris' friend.The novel has many tragic scenes, some tender moments, and a story you just can't tear yourself away from. We've had several rainy days in a row, which is a good thing since I just read and read until I finished this story. In a blurb on the cover, Hillary Jordan writes of Hepinstall's "vivid, beautifully crafted sentences." The quality of her writing was what made me read the book slowly so that I could savor each scene, each description, each character.I recommend this highly whether you like historical fiction or character-driven stories. It's just plain wonderful.
Blue Asylum tells the tale of a woman who dared to stand up to her husband and in doing so was deemed insane. It was a time in history when women were considered crazy when they did not conform to the norms of society; suffragettes were sent to insane asylums, women who contradicted men were sent to insane asylums. It was plain considered insane to contradict a man. In this tale Iris Dunleavy thinks she has found the perfect life by marrying her plantation owning husband despite the fact that she is against slavery. She believes his platitudes of how he treats his people like family and she knows she will be able to change him.We all know how much ANY woman can change a man now, don't we?Turns out Iris married a pig and as she tries to runaway with some of the slaves on the plantation she is caught, brought to try and found insane because she didn't obey her church attending, community leader husband. He sends her to an asylum on Sanibel Island in Florida to be "cured" of her ills. There she meets a very interesting mix of characters and the doctor running the place. But is he any less crazy than the inmates?This book is so evocative of its place and its place in time you can feel the desperation Iris suffers KNOWING she is not crazy as well as the warm breezes coming off the ocean. Ms. Hepinstall knows how to use words to create a mood, to create a feeling and to set a scene. From the details of Iris' dress to the descriptions of the shells that the doctor's son collects to keep himself occupied you can easily picture everything in your mind.The characters are colorful and well defined and despite only meeting some of them briefly they leave their mark on the story and stay with you as the main players act out their story. It was not a time kind to the insane. Iris of course, was not insane and her love interest Ambrose is at the asylum due to a horrifying incident he suffered during the Civil War. It was not a period known for dealing with PTSD....In spite of its topic this was a delightful book, full of hope but many things are left unanswered. I don't want to spoil plot points but I have several questions after finishing the book and that rankles. It did not seem a book that would lead to a sequel so this is a touch bothersome. But a minor bother in the overall scheme of life. It should not deter from reading a truly unique and very interesting book.
During the Civil War, Iris Dunleavy, the wife of a plantation owner, is convicted of madness and sent to Sanibel Asylum. Knowing full well that she is not insane, Iris longs for the chance to escape, and is determined to get away from the asylum and its egotistical doctor. But her plans are made more difficult when she meets and befriends Ambrose, a soldier whose madness is so severe that he can only be comforted by the color blue. The two begin to fall in love, and Iris becomes convinced that she must take Ambrose with her when she escapes. But can their love survive in such maddening times?I don't read a lot of adult historical fiction, but the summary - and the love story - were too good for me to pass up. And I'm glad I got a chance to read this book, because I really enjoyed it a lot. There was something very gentle and smooth about the storytelling; the prose isn't unbelievably beautiful or anything, but there were still numerous phrases and lines that caught my attention and were just really well done. I enjoyed the characters, which you get to experience because the book flips viewpoints throughout, so we're reading from Iris' point of view, and Ambrose's, and the doctor's, and the doctor's son, back and forth constantly. Normally this would bother me because it's so easy to do this in a clunky manner, but the switch was very seamless and smooth and just worked perfectly for this book.All of the characters had something about them that made them memorable. Iris, who is willing to stand up for herself and what she believes in and is so incredibly strong throughout the entire story. Ambrose, who is stronger than he thinks he is, but so clearly in the grip of what we'd now call PTSD (which of course was considered insanity back in the 1860s). The doctor, who is so unbelievably arrogant and pompous and who can't stand to hear a bad word said about him. Wendell, convinced he's going crazy because he's doing what all boys his age do, who is stuck on the island without any companionship his own age, which is ultimately what's making him crazy. And then you have the numerous asylum inmates: the woman who swallows things, the man whose feet are too heavy, the girl who's overly sympathetic to all living things. All of these characters just created an absolutely memorable setting and a truly wonderful story.The doctor was perhaps the most striking character for me personally, particularly his insane (ha, see what I did there?) infatuation with Iris. He absolutely cannot stand her to be upset with him, and goes to great lengths to try to win her approval, when all he would have needed to do was simply LISTEN to her. I had such a hard time with him - I went back and forth, feeling sympathetic, and then hating him, over and over so many times that I lost count. He is so condescending, and one line in particular really got to me (and to Iris): "I know there will be some words and phrases with which you will not be familiar..." like she can't possibly understand because she is a woman and he is a man and there's just no way she can possibly be smart or cunning or anything else. Just crazy, because her husband and a judge said so. But then he'd go and do things to try to make up for his mistakes at various times and you could tell he was trying but just really didn't know what to do. He was just really well-developed and written; it takes a lot for me to hate a character, and that's exactly the emotion I was feeling toward him at times.At the heart of this book is the love story between Ambrose and Iris, that was really beautifully crafted. I have a soft spot for romance novels, and while this wasn't completely a romance, there were large portions of it that definitely felt that way. Ambrose is a very sick man, but Iris is convinced that she can fix him, that they can live together and be happy. As the book goes on, you learn her story, and also Ambrose's, and you can see why he is the way he is, and what drove her to be called "insane
ris Dunleavy is sent to an insane asylum by her husband. But she isn't insane. Iris hates life at the asylum almost as much as she hated her life at the Civil War threatened plantation. Iris quickly makes friends with Ambrose Weller, a Confederate soldier whose bouts of violent memories can only be calmed by the color blue. Iris battles the asylum doctor, asserting her sanity. The doctor refuses to listen to her female hysteria and grows angry at the woman who has disturbed his asylum. Iris knows she must escape the asylum. She befriends the doctor's son, who believes himself to be insane. Aided by him, Iris and Ambrose flee the asylum seeking a new start for themselves. Will their love restore their sanity?This hauntingly beautiful novel brings love and sanity into question. This book questions what insanity really is. Is it not following social norms? Is it intense grief and remorse? Or believing untrue things?Hepinstall's work is very vivid. I can see Ambrose, wanting to be sane, but believing he isn't. I can feel Iris' pain at a love lost. While I couldn't take my eyes off Iris and Ambrose, I enjoyed the peripheral drama being played out.I now remember why I love Civil War novels. It provides such a heart wrenching backdrop. This book comes very highly recommended.
If you are looking for a book to read on the beach or just to while away a quiet afternoon, that will draw you in and beckon you back, this is it. Written with a prose that is at once simple and yet profound, as it deftly describes the atmosphere, in the luxury asylum for lunatics where Iris Dunleavy has been sent by her husband, this book won¿t disappoint you. It is an illuminating vision of what life was like for a woman who opposed a husband in a position of authority, when she had none.Iris is a soft spoken, but impulsive and determined woman. During the time of the Civil War, the women of the south were really under the control of their husbands, as were the slaves on their plantations, and, they too, were expected to be obedient and subservient to them. It was often the treatment of headstrong women, to be sent to lunatic asylums by their more powerful, cruel and arrogant husbands, in order to prevent them from embarrassing them, or themselves, by engaging in activities they deemed not respectable or proper for a lady. Engaging in women¿s right¿s movements or the politics of the day, was frowned upon, and thought to be unladylike subjects unfit for the delicate mind and constitution of women. Defying one's husband, especially in a public situation, was an absolutely humiliating affront to him and was, generally, not tolerated.Immediately, on the first page, the readers are drawn into the story as they watch Iris as she stands on the deck of the ship taking her to the asylum in Virginia. Her back is straight and he demeanor calm. Her first thoughts are of the beauty of the location as she draws near. She sees a child and a black man, the son of the doctor who is the head of the asylum and the chef, fishing off the pier. She watches a young man, Ambrose, a former soldier suffering from the trauma of war, as he sits quietly before a checker board and appears quite normal. The relationship that blooms between Iris and Ambrose is a major theme.The book makes you wonder, who is mad, who is sane, who gets to decide? Is Dr. Cowell fit to be the judge or is he just as mad as his patients? What motivates him? Is it his ego or his desire to return these people to the outside world again? Are the people who are employed there just a little mad also, or are they the victims of the madness surrounding them? Are the patients mad or has the environment they have been subjected to created the mental illness? Are women weak and frail, unfit to participate in the activities of men? Did Iris behave like a woman who has lost her sanity? Is Iris Dunleavy mad or is she simply the victim of her husband's authority?This book is very intense. Near the end I was almost afraid to read on, fearful of the conclusion. I wondered if it would be happy, sad, gruesome? The author builds up the pressure until you feel afraid to turn the page for fear of what you will read. Although the ending is completely unexpected, I found it a little bit disappointing. On the whole, though, this is an imaginative, creative and original story. The chapters are short and easy to read. You won¿t lose interest, because when you feel you might, the subject changes, just at the right time, and the story continues to hold your attention.Can mental illness be cured? Can mistakes be forgiven? Can love conquer all? On the very last page, there is a scene with a lady who dances with a husband who isn¿t really there. She imagines him into life. Is this the message of the book? Is she better off than those who live in misery, missing the person that isn¿t there, the appendage that isn¿t there, yearning for something unattainable? How do we find happiness? Did the doctor¿s own arrogance and narcissism cause the events that transpired? The story will make you wonder what madness is, and who, indeed, is mad? In the 1800¿s, psychiatry was in its infancy, the methods were untried and untested, the treatments were sometimes barbaric. Have we made any progress today or have we merely give
This is a book that stays with you long after you have read it. Iris Dunleavy has been sent to the insane asylum on Sanibel Island after escaping from her husband's plantation along with a group of slaves. She tries to explain her situation to the asylum's doctor, but finds that her story is one that sounds so horrific that it can't be true. She does find allies: Wendell, the doctor's son, and Ambrose, a civil war soldier trying to recover from what seems to be shell shock. The three of them plot an escape, but it's a journey that leads them to truths that none of them could foresee. Some things just cannot be left behind.Beautiful prose; haunting story.
Set during the civil war, the wife of a slave owning plantation, is sentenced to the lunatic asylum on Sibella Island. There she meets many different characters, some sane some not, and Ambrose who is scarred by his own actions in the war. This novel is a quiet novel, almost ethereal in tone, because the reader learns what sent these people here in flashback and conversations from the characters instead of directly from the acts. Loved the doctor's son, a young boy who fears he himself in insane. The descriptions of the water, sea life and the island are beautifully rendered. As for the name Blue in the title, it does have meaning but you will have to read the book to find out what it is. ARC provided by Net Galley.
`Blue Asylum¿ by Kathy Hephinstall is a short tale of wrongful imprisonment in an insane asylum. It was easy to get into the story and didn¿t bog down in places. Set during the Civil War on Sanibel Island, a place well known for excellent seashell hunting, the main character, Iris and the son of the superintendent, Wendell, do collect shells several on the beach. But this is not a light and sunny story, it is one of guilty secrets buried so deep that they disturbed the peace of mind of the possessors. Iris Dunleavy was shipped to the island along with a herd of cattle. Her husband had declared her insane and a Judge signed the papers to have her committed. Her trial had taken less than an hour. The story of what led up to her husband, Robert putting her away is slowly revealed through her memories. While she was at the Sanibel Asylum for Lunatics, she met and befriended Wendell who grew up without children his age and feeling like a prisoner on the island. Wendell¿s father, Dr. Cowell had gained prestige by writing a paper on lunacy among women and the rising suffrage movement. Wendell¿s mother, Mary, is in her own little world of laudanum, chocolate and remedies of the time. Iris falls for a wounded Confederate soldier, Ambrose, who suffers pain from his stump but even more pain from a terrible event in during his time as a soldier. The emotional pain from that even was so overwhelming that he was taught by Dr. Cowell to think of blue, blue sky, blue birds, blue anything so that he could distract himself from the horror. Slowly, we learn Ambrose¿s terrible secret too. But Iris and Ambrose were not able to break through of their guilt, so strong was their feeling that they were responsible for awful things that happened. This story is part historical fiction, part mystery, part expose of slavery, the condition of women and of power of the strong over the helpless. I did get hooked early on this story and had trouble laying it down. I really like the beach setting and its contrast to many of the dark lives of the characters. The beach was the sole place that they could feel free away from the asylum. I think it brought up many psychological and social issues that could have been examined in a longer book. On the whole, I enjoyed the story and would recommend it to any historical fiction fan or history fan. I received this book from the Amazon Vine Program and that in no way influenced my review.
If a book has an asylum in it, I'm always game. But this one was a surprise; Blue Asylum has so much to offer.In the time of the war between the South and the North, wife of a Southern slaveholder is sent to an asylum. Here she meets a cast of characters including the self-proclaimed crazy son of the psychiatrist, a woman that swallows small objects and a soldier that uses the colour blue to keep his war traumas at bay. But Iris doesn't believe she's mad; and there is only one thing on her mind. Freedom.Ms Hepinstall writes with a dreamlike quality that fits wonderfully in this story. The way she describes the island where the asylum is located, to the sea and the creatures. It was beautiful. If it weren't for the asylum, I would have loved to live there.Now as for the asylum itself, it was like a fresh breeze into the genre. Usually asylums are bleak places, with small empty rooms with only a metal bed. A place where behind a pretty façade there are horrible things going on. But none such thing in Sanibel Asylum. The place is light and breezy. The rooms have comfortable beds and paintings on the wall. The patients can have walks on the beach and a weekly swim in the sea. They dine together with the psychiatrists family and eat the same fine food. I loved the contrast between the beautiful asylum which is a prison, and the freedom outside where there is a war going on.The story is about so much more than a woman fighting for her freedom. There are so many underlying themes such as faith, war, slavery, family, destiny and of course love. What made Blue Asylum a five-star read for me is that even though it contains so many heavy themes, it never gets preachy. There is no narrator telling you "This is the way it should be". There are only the characters, fighting their own situation, and discovering themselves while doing it.Blue Asylum will keep you on the edge of your seat. There is a lot of mystery going on, and the secrets won't be revealed until the very end.A truly amazing book.
This is the second of Kathy's books I've read and I really enjoy her. The book moves right along and if you have to stop reading you can't wait to get back to it. Then, when you do it's like picking up with old friends. Just a wonderful read. I sure hope she is writing more!