After reading Sandy's fantastic and enthusiastic review of this book, and seeing some very intriguing movie trailers, I decided that I just had to try it out for myself. I'm not normally a reader of thriller and suspense novels and had yet to read anything by Lehane, but I couldn't resist this book, and I'm so glad that I gave it a go. It was time well spent!
I loved the atmosphere in this book. Lehane is a master at creating a creepy and malevolent background in which his characters wind their machinations. There was a great feeling of gloominess and darkness throughout the story, and it lent a lot of credibility to the narrative. He’s also very adept at his descriptions of place. Too often, I have trouble visualizing the settings in the books I read, even when they’re described with infinite patience. This is not the case with Shutter Island. In fact, the way that Lehane goes about calmly and methodically describing the hospital, its grounds and the island was wonderful. It bordered on simplistic, yet somehow was not simple. The fact that the description was so well done really enhanced my enjoyment of the story.
I feel that there is much in this book that I can't really talk about, for fear of giving away the crux and heart of the book's mystery. Suffice it to say that Lehane does a great job with twisting the story into a tale full of deception, secrets and the lies that people tell themselves. Though the story moves through several permutations and winds its way towards several shocking situations, it never felt convoluted and it held a great tension throughout the tale. It was a wicked tale, full of the deranged, the dangerous and the afflicted, and several of the scenes in the hospital left me feeling the chills. The journey through Teddy's investigation was chock full of unlikely scenarios that would make even the most hardened reader's hair stand on end, and as I wound my way through the narrative, I worked my way along stacking up the clues, though I was in no way prepared for the book’s final haunting scenes. When all is finally revealed, I found myself totally aghast, and appreciated what Lehane had done all the more.
One of the reasons that Teddy made such an impact on me was because, from the beginning, he was such a flawed and believable character. Lehane takes his time crafting Teddy's background and traumas, giving him not only the anger and curiosity that fuels his quest, but also the fighting spirit that enables him to crawl through even the most messy of situations. He had some great dialogue as well. Teddy never stopped with the wit and sarcasm, and often, the tension in a scene was mitigated by Teddy's droll pronouncements to those around him. I found it impossible not to react to Teddy. He was so human, filled with regret, sadness, and an unspeakable drive that propelled him ever forward. As the conclusion of the book finally made itself clear to me, I began to see that Teddy had several roles to play in this drama, and he played some much more successfully than others. I felt that Lehane was brilliant in his creation of Teddy and was completely caught off guard when I realized just what was going on in this twisted tale.
I also found the sections about the institution very interesting. Reading about mental illness in literature is one of the things that really intrigues me, and to see Ashecliffe from the point of view of both the patients and the staff was exceptionally interesting. Since the book was set in the 1940s, the mental health field was very different than it is today. At that time, talk therapy was almost unheard of and pharmaceuticals were just beginning to make it on the scene. The most typical way for the mentally afflicted to be treated during this time was the use of psychosurgery (namely the frontal lobotomy) and the use of manacles and chains to keep the patients from running wild. I found this to be very sad and it made me really think about the advancements that have been made in the treatment of mental illness since that time. Lehane takes it to the next level with the suspicions of harmful foreign drugs and the use of torture. It is said in the book that the staff at Ashecliffe “wrote their own playbook” in regards to their treatment practices. Frightening indeed.
If you’re the type of reader who wants to get lost in a fantastically dark and twisted tale full of surprises, then this is definitely the book for you. Though it was written in a simple and conversational style, the book was simply stunning. In the future, I'm going to be looking for more of Lehane’s work, and already have a copy of Mystic River on my shelf waiting for me. Looking for an unusual and dark thriller, where nothing is what it seems? Then by all means, go out and grab a copy of Shutter Island!