Multiple Realities; Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane [2003]

siI was meant to post this yesterday, but circumstance dictated otherwise and so here we are – on this cold coastal weekend, blogging on the wrong day and throwing caution to the wind.

Continuing my run on madness I have launched from one end of the genre, smashed into some poetry and then galloped to the other end with this thriller.Apologies for the over laungage-ey ness of my writing, I’ve been reading Miranda Hart’s autobiography and her style has begun to sink in.

The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new -partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple-murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane bears relentlessly down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades–with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is remotely what it seems.Synopsis from GoodReads

One of the first things that struck me while reading was that I would have no idea how to talk about this book without giving the twist away. I’ve tried to keep my musing brief, but avoid the third paragraph down if you want to remain spoiler free.

Rather quickly you begin to suspect that something is not quite right on Shutter Island; it is not much of a surprise when the plot turns on Teddy, our protagonist. As you read you will find you become Teddy; I suspected whom he suspected, I sided with and supported his allies. You may find other revelations surprise you, I did, but the main gist of the story will not be unfamiliar. Set in post-war America, Shutter Island reflects themes of espionage and allegiances; tensions are high. Remembering that Shutter Island is set during McCarthyism and the early Cold War adds further layers to Teddy’s suspicion, actions and fears.

Even at the end of the novel, I still was not sure which reality I should trust; even the rational part of my mind refused to trust the revelation over the apparent delusion. It reminded me of Life of Pi, either I could trust the friendly version my mind could deal with, or the stark brutality of the other.

Ultimately the most upsetting moment comes at the conclusion of the Shutter Island, where Teddy is unable to accept anything but his constructed reality; his regression was gut wrenching. He is constantly presented as a strong man, to have him then revealed to be constantly accepting and then repressing reality completely contrasts with this image. Teddy is not your idea of a madman, he is us, we see everything through his eyes and with him we resist the people telling us things that contradict what we have seen. However, as an unreliable narrator, we cannot trust everything we experience via Teddy. As the Doctor tells Teddy to remember, we must revisit what Teddy has seen and deconstruct it, deciding which we believe is the reality and if it really matters which is right or not.

The only downside of Shutter Island was that I accurately guessed the twist and that I never really understood the woman in the cave. Slightly cryptic downsides, but hopefully all the more reason to get you reading.

Do you know of any interesting books on madness I should try?

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