Blue Asylum, written by Kathy Hepinstall, is a novel I would not have normally picked up. In this case, I fell in love with the cover. It’s absolutely stunning, and so it led me to want to read this book. Upon reading the first few pages, I thought the pacing was nice; however, the story itself was slightly confusing for me. The novel starts off during the Civil War, yet flashes back to the past in order to reveal certain aspects of the characters’ lives. Sometimes it took me time to realize I was reading from the past, then back to the present Civil war time, and then back again.
Also, multiple characters are given a vivid voice, so it did take concentration in order to keep track of them all. Once I got it down, it was a good read. A bright note belongs to the detail’s Hepinstall strings together. They are utterly captivating. Each character was well developed and given a big voice. Each one stood out from the other, and I found myself turning each page to see who I would hear from next.
My absolute focus was on main character Iris Dunleavy, and her story of survival. When she’s sent off to a mental institution her story really begins. Right from the first page she’s been sentenced to this institution, and the readers are with her from then on. Her story is fascinating; and so are the other characters.
With a backdrop of the Civil War, Blue Asylum is not a happy story. It’s full of love (sure), but it’s mostly tragic. It is tragic in its wartime nature; and tragic in its mental games. It’s also part crime, part war, part romance, part psychological thriller, part etcetera, etcetera. Blue Asylum may not be my usual reading material, but it was certainly enjoyable… even if it did leave a heavy feeling in my heart.
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 residents--- some 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.