Carin's Reviews > Blue Asylum

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
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Feb 19, 13

bookshelves: women-authors, wnba, historical-fiction, southern-lit
Read from January 31 to February 02, 2013

The year is 1865 and Iris Dunleavy's husband has sent her to an asylum on Sanibel Island, as he thinks she much be crazy. After all, she ran off with a bunch of escaping slaves, and who doesn't want to be the mistress of a plantation? We know something more horrible happened, but you don't find out what exactly for a while. Meanwhile, Iris suffers the difficult fate of a sane woman in an insane asylum. She befriends Ambrose, a veteran who plays checkers and suffers from PTSD, and Wendell, the young teenaged son of the psychiatrist. After failing to persuade the doctor of her sanity, Iris concludes her only option is to escape.

Initially we're introduced to a lot of characters quickly and I was confused, but that quickly sorted itself out. I loved the setting. I don't think I've ever read a book set in the middle of the civil war, which didn't go from beginning to end (unless it was about a single battle). Certainly not one where the war was a more peripheral event, like here, instead of front and center. I'm not sure I bought how many of these Southerners were opposed to slavery (felt very anachronistic to me) but if that was seen at the time as a sign of insanity, perhaps asylums would be filled with abolitionists. I also liked the setting of Sanibel Island which was almost like another character in the book. I did not like how the character of Lydia just disappeared halfway through the book. (Yes, she was given an exit, but you don't just write off a major character in the middle.) A couple of the twists at the end I thought were quite clever. One I saw coming and one I did not. It was a very fast read which is always a good thing, and overall I enjoyed it despite a couple of minor quibbles. But it didn't really stick with me.

I am interested what we'll talk about at book club. There are a lot of themes--sanity, slavery, freedom, power, control, blue, the ocean. That usually makes for a good discussion.
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