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Blue Asylum Hardcover – April 10, 2012
The Amazon Book Review
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A Letter to Readers from Kathy Hepinstall
Dear Amazon Readers,
They say madness is a double-edged sword. It can cause you great misunderstanding, institutionalization, and even physical torture. But it’s so handy when you fall in love. In Blue Asylum, Iris Dunleavy and Ambrose Weller find themselves suffering from each of these effects of madness--misunderstood, sequestered in a sanitarium, and subjected to cruel treatment. And yet they still manage to fall, madly, in love.
Speaking of love, I have to say I love these characters. I want the best for them. I hesitate to cause them pain, even for their own good. I've never had children, but they are like children to me. They are real. They exist despite the fact that they never did, and when I hear their names I feel a chord of recognition.
Iris. I think of a headstrong woman who believes she can control the fate of those she loves.
Ambrose. The name literally feels blue--ironically, the color of the uniform he fought against.
Wendell, the boy who decides to help Ambrose and Iris escape the insane asylum, gives me a worried smile.
And Dr. Cowell's earnest and desolate pomposity makes me want to surrender to him what he can never have, or reach inside him and remove that craving impulse to matter somehow.
I researched and started writing Blue Asylum on the island of Sanibel. It's a strange and largely wild place, pristine and ominous, flat blue-green water and breezes and crocodiles. In 1864, the year Blue Asylum takes place, it must have been even more beautiful, dangerous, unpredictable. It's a good place for a story, I think, and a good place for my characters to grow up.
I hope you enjoy the madness and passion of my characters. Maybe you'll even see--a little, at least--of it in yourself.
"What sets Blue Asylum apart is Hepinstall’s luscious prose and the tension within each character that keeps the reader maddeningly off balance...Hepinstall makes inspired use of the Civil War as a means to explore notions of freedom, courage and, especially, opposing principals that both prevent and create change. Battle scenes, glimpsed briefly in Ambrose’s excruciating flashbacks, deliver knockout punches of quiet horror all the more affecting for their subtlety."
"A fine novel embroidered with rich imagery."
"Features excellent pacing and strong character development that animate not only the inmates at the Sanibel Asylum but the characters from the preasylum lives of Iris and Ambrose. A first-rate choice for fans of intelligent historical romances."
—Library Journal, starred review
"Hepinstall exquisitely illustrates the fate of societal outsiders in this richly compelling Civil War–era tale of the former mistress of a Virginia plantation, now confined to a beautiful island asylum, and her burgeoning love for a traumatized Confederate soldier... Deftly interweaving past and present, Hepinstall sets the struggles of her characters against the rigidity of a traditional Southern society and the brutality of war in an absorbing story that explores both the rewards and perils of love, pride, and sanity itself."
"A deep sense of the natural world, often-lyrical prose, and some touches of southern Gothic help carry along this tale of obsession and redemption."
"With Blue Asylum, Kathy Hepinstall presents the reader with the rare and delicious quandary of whether to race through and find out what happens to her characters or to linger over her vivid, beautifully crafted sentences. For me, the only resolution was to read it twice."
—Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke
"Blue Asylum is a gripping story of love and madness in the midst of the Civil War—I couldn’t put it down!"
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"Blue Asylum casts a spell that keeps the reader turning pages as if in a trance. The language is lyrical but the plot is taut and compelling. The horrors of the Civil War are made real and specific in the story of the wounded soldier and the persecuted wife who find love and hope in the unlikely setting of a supposedly enlightened insane asylum on an isolated island in the Deep South. Kathy Hepinstall is a master storyteller in full command of her craft."
—Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of A Woman of Independent Means
Top customer reviews
The book started out really good; interesting characters, solid narration and atmosphere. But then about halfway through it sort of fizzled out for me. I was baffled by the lack of purpose in any of the characters. As someone else mentioned the doctor was by far the most interesting character, but he also kind of reached a stagnant point. Any passage about the doctor's son was baffling (though amusing).
I guess the point of the book was so unclear to me that it prevented me from enjoying it or taking anything away from what I'd read. After their escape, Ambrose and what's-her-name linger in a not-so-distant town, which for me right then didn't cut it; why would they hang around? No sane person would do that when they know someone is going to pursue them. And if someone tries to argue, "Well, that's the point, they aren't sane," my reply is, "Oh really? Because one of them is..."
The love story fell flat, too. There was barely any build-up and absolutely no purpose for either one of them falling in love with the other. It's not shown, it's not even cheaply explained to us; it just is and that's supposed to be good enough? Hmm....Again, lacking. This book is lacking, in very necessary points. I wouldn't recommend buying this book; check it out from your local library instead.
Even thought I liked the premise, I still found myself struggling to connect with the books and the characters fully. I am not sure if it was the pacing or the fact that there was so much going on in the book. The author told different chapters from a lot of characters' POV: there was Iris, the doctor, Ambrose (the patient Iris falls in love with), Wendell (the doctor's son), and Mary (the doctor's wife). There were also times when the author would focus on some small detail of something happening at the asylum, but she would also tell what some of the patients were thinking about it. It just added to my confusion and lack of emotion towards the characters. It was hard to care fully about characters that I didn't even really have a chance to get to know. The ending also struck me as a little too convenient and neat. There were still a lot of unanswered questions.
In the end, I thought the book was just okay. It wasn't one that I just couldn't put down.