Friday, April 13, 2012

Blue Asylum - Kathy Hepinstall

Summary:  Put on trial by her slaveholder husband and convicted of madness by a Virginia judge, Iris Dunleavy is sent to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good wife.  But Iris knows her husband is the true criminal; she's no lunatic, only guilty of violating southern notions of propriety.

A pompous superintendent heads this asylum populated by wonderful characters, including his self-diagnosing twelve-year-old son, a woman who swallows anything in sight, and Ambrose Weller, a 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."  In this isolated place, she finds love with Ambrose.  But can she take him with her if she escapes?  Will there be anything for them to make a life from, back home?

Blue Asylum is the rich, absorbing story of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the call of freedom.  (Summary from book - Image from - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  Kathy Hepinstall is one of my favorite authors and I’ve been waiting for her to write another novel for almost a decade.  I like the way she thinks, and I love the way she writes.  I read her first novel, The House of Gentle Men cover-to-cover in one night and now own two copies -- one to lend out and one that no one but me touches.  She’s also the author of two other novels, The Absence of Nectar and Prince of Lost Places.  They are each drastically different from her first, but they all have a place of honor* on my bookshelf. 

Hepinstall’s latest novel, Blue Asylum, tells the tale of Iris Dunleavy, a young wife shipped off to a prestigious island asylum to be cured of her defiant behavior towards her husband.  Certain she can talk her way out of such a ridiculous predicament, Iris tries convince the doctor of her sanity, but when it becomes clear that no one will listen, she begins to plan her escape.  While she plots, Iris becomes acquainted with the various inhabitants of the asylum and increasingly drawn into their world.  When she finds love, can she leave it behind?

Blue Asylum is a deliciously hypnotic exploration of sanity and madness – not just one story, but several that unfold slowly throughout the book.  In a time where the rights of women and slaves were hotly contested, Hepinstall captures the flavor of the Civil War era and island setting with evocative imagery, intoxicating prose, and sumptuous detail.  Something about the way she writes just pulls me into the center of everything.  Her characters are unique, fascinating, and genuine – some truly insane, others less so – and each has their own stories and secrets to tell. 

One of the delightful aspects of Hepinstall’s novels is that she always manages to hold something back for the end, a piece of the story, horrific or startling, that has the potential to change everything.  I love that kind of anticipation.  The feeling of knowing I don’t know everything, and waiting, dying, to find out.  With each turn of the page, I held my breath for fear I might lose it – and I did. 

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (This would probably have rated bit higher if it wasn’t for the stuff in the sensitive reader section.)

For the sensitive reader:  Some violence.  One instance of profanity.  Several sexual situations.  While I wouldn’t consider them vulgar or graphic, these moments were stunningly intimate and so I felt like I was intruding.  Awkward.  To a lesser degree there were also a few passing references to male and female anatomy and the occasional mention of one young boy’s tendency toward…um…self-gratification.

Sum it up:  Worth the wait.

*at the top, where they are safe from my kiddos destructive hands.

To purchase:  Powell's Books  /  Amazon  /   B&N
To visit the author's blog:

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

You recommended House of Gentle Men to me awhile ago...and I still haven't read it. I have this marked "to read" as well. Besides, the cover rocks.


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