Released: April 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
You can read the Goodreads summary here.
Iris is the wife of a plantation owner during the Civil War when her values get in the way of real life- her husband has her convicted of a crime based on insanity and is sent to Sanibel Asylum in Florida. Her husband paid good money for the best asylum in the country so staying there isn't necessarily horrible until Iris hears of the dreaded "water treatment" and experiences it herself for the first time. Feeling trapped by the asylum and finding herself falling in love with another patient, Iris struggles with the idea of escaping... but can she do it and can she take her love with her?
This book was pretty much the bees-knees to me, it had everything I could want - a great historical setting, a solid feminist main character, a little bit of falling in love, and to top all that - an insane asylum. I was immediately drawn into Blue Asylum by its well-thought-out plot and the great writing style of Kathy Hepinstall. I found Sanibel Asylum to be the most intriguing setting and learning about mental institutions during the Civil War era, no matter how informally, was very interesting to me. In addition, I loved the way that Iris's "crime" was revealed throughout the novel. We know she's innocent from the beginning, we just don't know what she's innocent of. By the end of the book I was speechless - how could anyone consider that a crime in the first place? But that's the era they lived in.
Iris's doctor and his family were very interesting characters to me. At times it seemed like they had more cause to be patients than the actual patients themselves. I know the doctor meant well, but his ideas about women's mental health were so primitive that his treatment actually hindered progress. Of course, it's not entirely his fault. Like I said before, that's the era they were living in. When he writes a paper showing a correlation between the women's rights movement and the growing numbers of hysteria cases among women, he's convinced they're related. Thankfully today we know that to be false.
The only thing I felt was lacking from this book were more treatments. I'm sure at the time they must have had more than one, and after Iris experiences the water treatment herself, that's the last we really hear of it. I'm very interested by early medicine, particularly in the area of mental health, so I would have liked to have seen more there, but its absence didn't detract from the book.
Five stars! There are so many positive things I could say about Blue Asylum, but I can't sit here all day. This book was so interesting and well-written, I couldn't help but sneak in a few pages at work. I highly recommend this one to historical fiction fans.