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Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
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Apr 20, 12

bookshelves: 2012
Read from April 03 to 05, 2012

Blue Asy­lum by Kathy Hep­in­stall is a fic­tional book tak­ing place in an insane asy­lum dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War. The lines between insan­ity and san­ity are always blurred and this is espe­cially true dur­ing war time.

Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War Iris Dun­leavy, wife of a Vir­ginia plan­ta­tion owner, was put on trial and found to be insane. Mrs. Dun­leavy was sent away to Sani­bel Asy­lum to return to her for­mer self of a com­pli­ant woman.

Con­fed­er­ate solider Ambrose Weller is ter­ror­ized by mem­o­ries which can only be calmed by think­ing of the color blue – until he meets Iris. Together Iris and Ambrose fetch a plan to escape.

Blue Asy­lum by Kathy Hep­in­stall is a solid story which blurs the lines between what’s real & imag­i­nary, sane & insane and right and wrong. The novel is short and fast paced with clear writ­ing and excel­lent char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. I could vividly see the char­ac­ters, scenery and set­tings in my mind’s eye.

This is an intrigu­ing book with com­pelling writ­ing. Ms. Hep­in­stall has a won­der­ful lin­guis­tic gift which makes her work enjoy­able to read. There are many themes to the book san­ity, slav­ery, love, and more.
What is it like being sane in an insane world and being insane in an insane world are some of the sub­jects that are being touched on.

The char­ac­ter which I found most dis­turb­ing is Dr. Cow­ell, the super­in­ten­dent of the asy­lum. Dr. Cow­ell is not a sadist, he is a good man and a good doc­tor who really believes his the­o­ries about the supe­ri­or­ity of men over women. Dr. Cow­ell spends a lot of his time and money on help­ing the folks in the asy­lum – some­times at the expense of his own family.

Yet Dr. Cow­ell can­not help his wife who is going mad, his son who is a self-professed lunatic (he’s not) and strongly believes in a method of tor­ture to “help” the patients which he cares so much about and pre­scribes large amounts of med­ica­tion to. Dr. Cow­ell also believes that those who live out­side the norms of soci­ety are “insane”. A strange belief for a per­son who spent his life work­ing out­side the sys­tem and who works in a field where dis­prov­ing pre­vi­ous the­o­ries is one of the few ways to make break­throughs.
The hypocrisy, cyn­i­cism and unbe­knownst to them sin­is­ter acts of a good per­son is some­thing I find scary and, unfor­tu­nately, wit­ness almost daily.

I enjoyed read­ing this book very much, but even though the author cer­tainly shows a mas­tery of the Eng­lish lan­guage, I felt that some­times the sym­bol­ism and metaphors were more in-your-face in a novel which issues are not brought up and in an era where sub­tlety was key.

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