Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall


Blue Asylum
Kathy Hepinstall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012),
$24.00, Kindle $15.50
Hardcover, 288 pages, 0547712073

Iris Dunleavy is the wife of a souther plantation owner. She is duped into the belief that her husband’s slave labor would be temporary, a “necessary evil”. However, she is a vociferous and recalcitrant partner in the marriage, an image contrary to proper behavior in Southern society. When she witnesses the brutal treatment of a young slave, she is unable to stand the torture. She throws herself in front of the bloodied youth to prevent further lashes of the whip. This does not bode well with her husband and he reprimands her. Later, when she helps a group of slaves to escape, her husband is infuriated and convinces a Virginia judge to declare her insane. She is sent to Sanibel Asylum, to be rehabilitated into a more compliant wife, cooperative and gentile.

While there, she meets many patients, some insane others questionable. Her friendship with her doctor’s son is sweet and helps her to manage the long days. Iris knows she does not belong at Sanibel and refuses to cooperate. and provides a constant challenge to her doctor and staff. Considered a modern, state of the art facility, Iris is not convinced. When she suffers an inhumane water therapy treatment given to uncontrollable patients she seethes with anger.While there she meets a Civil War soldier who suffers flashbacks and fits that are only soothed by the color blue. Iris falls in love with Ambrose and begins to think about a different future.

Kathy Hepinstall is brilliant with characterization and her novel offers a memorable cast. My favorite person is an older woman inmate who suffers from an unusual eating disorder. While this novel is intensely serious and provides a setting that is the dark reality common at institutions of this time period, Hepinstall manages to relieve the readers with short respites of humor. Without giving away too much, a much anticipated meal of lamb becomes a disappointment to all, except the doctor’s son. Hysterical moment with hysteria at Sanibel.

This was my first experience reading anything by Kathy Hepinstall, however after reading Blue Asylum I will have to catch up. She certainly captured my interest as Blue Asylum kept my Kindle in constant use. Anyone interested in the rights of women, and the social inequities that was prevalent during the late 19th century will embrace this with zeal. Kathy Hepinstall has a fluid style, a natural cadence to her writing with an intriguing plot.
Fabulous historical fiction that will satisfy anyone interested in the social reform movement of this time period and the freedom and rights of all. A novel deserving much praise.

Wisteria Leigh
Saturday, March 31, 2012

Disclosure: This kindle edition was made available at no charge to me via Net Galley at

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2012].


Anna said...

This sounds excellent! Thanks for the review!

wisteria said...

It was one of those I blew through on my kindle. LOL
Love Civil War historical fiction.

wisteria said...

Hi Dees,
Greetings to you in Holland!
So nice to read your lovely comments and praise. Thank-you. Happy to meet a reader and fellow greyhound lover. A friend of mine has a Spanish galgo. They are amazing animals and sweet pets. I had four rescued GH's but lost two within the past year and a half. These gentle runners give my life so much joy. A bright light shines every day for sure. Nice to meet you also. Have a great day. -Wisteria

Netherland said...

"Blue Asylum" tells the story of Iris Dunleavy, a young woman convicted of madness, not because of actual lunacy, but because her actions fall far outside the bounds of what is considered her proper role in society. She is sent to an expensive, isolated asylum in the hopes that she can be cured and returned to her husband. While at the asylum, she has a profound impact on several members of the asylum community, including the doctor who runs the asylum and his son, and a fellow patient named Ambrose, a Civil War soldier whose mind has been broken by all he has witnessed and been forced to do in the war.
The reader eventually discovers the events that have led to both Iris and Ambrose being incarcerated in the asylum. The part I enjoyed most as a reader, though, was the storyline developing within the asylum community itself. One of the strongest parts for me was the way in which Hepinstall developed the dynamics of the doctor and his family. Dr. Cowell became one of the most interesting and fully-realized characters to me.
Hepinstall is a wonderful writer. She has a real gift with language. Some of her similes are so apt they are a real pleasure to read and think about. Sometimes, though, I felt there were too many similes and metaphors and that they didn't always work.