Sunday, April 21, 2013

What is the Definition of Insanity?

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall is the story of Iris Dunleavy. Set in the Civil War, Iris is sent to a mental institution after being convicted of being a lunatic.  Her wealthy plantation husband has sent her to Sanibel Island in Florida to Dr. Cowell to be turned into a reasonable woman once again. 

Iris arrives on the island intent on being released once someone understands the situation. She is not crazy. She has been placed there by her husband after she disgraced him by attempting to flee the plantation with slaves.  Iris must convince Dr. Cowell, a leading "expert" on women's maladies, that she is sane. Dr. Cowell's son, Wendell, is drawn to Iris and her claim of sanity. Wendell, convinced he is mad himself, struggles with being an adolescent and his love for a former patient.  Ambrose, a fellow patient, is a former soldier battling PTSD. Ambrose becomes a companion for Iris, and they fall in love.  

Iris decides she must plan her escape or die on the island. Will she succeed? 

In less than 300 pages, Hepinstall paints the story well.  Readers can imagine the island and the asylum, and the desperation of all the island inhabitants. Hepinstall has created a story on the outskirts of the Civil War, but asks the questions relevant to that era. What rights are afforded to people living during that time? Who can judge what is in a person's mind or heart? 

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Review by Cara 

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