Blue Asylum was a maddeningly compelling book. It was hard to read how Iris was shut away in an insane asylum when she was obviously not crazy just because she disobeyed her slave-owning husband. The time period of the Civil War, when women’s lives were largely at the whim of their husbands, was a perfect backdrop for this book. I’ve come to appreciate this time period for novels with strong women at the center who fight against social norms to lead a fulfilling life. Such heroines were also present in the novels The Lightkeeper’s Wife and The Asylum.
Kathy Hepinstall used an omnipresent narration to tell the stories of several characters: Iris held against her will, the doctor running the asylum and treating Iris, the doctor’s son, Wendall, who wrestled with loneliness and adolescence, and another patient who became a love interest of Iris. Each person harbored dark secrets, and it was clear early on that these characters would seriously impact each others’ lives. The desolate coastal area relegated to the lunatics inhabiting the “hospital” had plenty of elements that aided the story in unlikely ways. My favorite character was Iris because she was outspoken and steadfast in her convictions. Wendall was an unusually mature young character whose passion and intellect surprised me. Each character wrestled with accepting the truths of their own lives and their denial in that respect provided a complex and intricate plot. To be fair, I wished for a slightly different ending, but was pleased that the conclusion evolved appropriately and was satisfied with it.
This was a well written book that I was happy I read.