Monday, August 23, 2010

The Island You'll Never Leave

There are books I read because I have to. There are books I read because I want to. Out of these books, some I like, some I really like, and a few have a serious impact on me. One of these few books is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I was not planning on reading this book; I just happened to see it on display while strolling around the local Barnes and Noble. I was intrigued by the cover and the summary. I had no idea this impulse purchase would change my world.

It was a weekend in October, if I recall correctly, that I began my adventure into Lehane’s world of Shutter Island. It had been some time since I had found a novel that truly held my attention and made me never want to close the pages and leave that fictional world behind. The novel chronicles U.S. Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels, and his partner, Chuck Aule, as they travel to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane located on the remote Shutter Island off the coast of Boston (I was a tad disappointed to realize that Shutter Island is not actually one of the Boston Harbor Islands). The two marshals are sent to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a prisoner – or shall I say patient – at the hospital. Right as the partners step off the boat and through the gates of the hospital, it is apparent that this is no ordinary assignment and no ordinary location.

I had never read any novels by Lehane prior to Shutter Island and had also not read many novels in the mystery/thriller genre. I was hooked immediately and the novel had just begun. The marshals are introduced to the head staff members of the hospital, all seemingly more conspicuous than the next, and are given more information on Rachel’s disappearance. According to hospital staff, there is no way she could have escaped unnoticed, through the locked gates and out onto the rocky terrain. Even if she had managed to do so, she would not survive the approaching storm and had no shoes! Completely confused but dying to know what happens next? I certainly was and I had just bought the book that morning.

As morning became afternoon and afternoon quickly became evening, I hoped I would never have to leave Shutter Island and its mysteries, but eventually I did have to take a break from reading to sleep. I will confess, after reading about criminally insane patients writing in the Federal Marshal’s notebook to “RUN,” I had a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. In my head, images of Teddy, Rachel, and her secret clues like “WHO IS 67?” flooded my mind and although I tried to only listen to my television, my mind did not leave Ashecliffe that night. My mind wandered to Ward C to find out what was going on in that building where no one was allowed to visit. If that’s not a sign of a well-written novel, then I don’t know what is.

As soon as I woke up the next day, I was back in the midst of Lehane’s mystery and the twists just kept on coming. The officials at the hospital find Rachel Solando – or so they think – and tell Teddy and Chuck that they are free to go home. Teddy, however, is not satisfied and wants to figure out Rachel’s clue about Ashecliffe’s possible 67th patient. The reader finds out by this point that Teddy has a hidden past and believes that the man responsible for his wife’s death is hidden away at the hospital in Ward C and is this mysterious patient. To the displeasure of the hospital staff, the Federal Marshals do not leave the premises. At this point in the novel, I am convinced that there are conspiracies abound on Shutter Island and that these poor Marshals are being imprisoned there to be used for cruel and unusual mind experiments. I believed that every person employed on Ashecliffe’s staff knew what was happening and was allowing these experiments to continue and to let new people - insane or not – be brought in and taken prisoner. Shutter Island actually took over my mind for those few days. Nothing else was worth my time; I had to find out what was happening on this mysterious and unsettling island.

When I wasn’t lost on Shutter Island, I was talking about Shutter Island. Everyone in my path had to hear about it – my parents, my friends, my classmates – if you were near me, you were hearing about it. Any spare second I could grab was spent enveloped in my book and trying to extract any information from Lehane’s words that could lead to the answers to the mysteries lurking on Shutter Island. I enjoy my fair share of novels, but not many of them make me feel the need to tell others about it when I haven’t even finished it yet. When I picked up the novel (finally!) again, even more mysteries and twists were in store. This time it’s that Rachel Solando had three children and she drowned them all in the lake behind her house. Creepy and sick? Yes. Did it suck me even further into the novel? Yes it did. I was consumed by these characters’ minds and Lehane’s writing makes this fictional world seem as real as the world outside my door.

Eventually the Marshals make their way into Ward C after a brutal storm disarms the alarms of the building. Teddy confronts who he believes is his wife’s murderer and is warned against the dangers of Shutter Island and that he will never leave; he was brought here for a reason. Determined to get off the island alive and with his brain intact, Teddy resorts to desperate measures but is not successful. Once confronted by head doctors in his escape attempts, Teddy inquires about his partner, Chuck, and is informed that he did not arrive with a partner. This absolutely throws me for a loop. Slowly it becomes clear that maybe the conspiracies are real, the entire medical team is in on this game, and Teddy Daniels is truly never going to leave Ashecliffe because he knows just a little too much. However, it may also be true that Teddy is, in fact, not completely sane and the fact that everything I had believed for the whole novel is possibly not real is beyond mysterious – now I’m just scared and even more trapped on Shutter Island.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it is not what you would expect. The last part of the novel explains mysteries that I thought I had figured out the entire time, but was proven wrong. The mind games that Lehane plays on his readers are unreal and once I finished and finally put down the novel, it didn’t leave my mind for a long time. I anticipated a good read, maybe even a great one, but I did not anticipate the impact that this one novel would have on me. Since Shutter Island, I have read more of Lehane’s novels, but none seem to compare, although I do enjoy each one. I recommend that all readers take a trip to Ashecliffe Hospital and travel through Ward C with Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels. It is worth the venture to be drawn into the thoughts and fears of the a Federal Marshal as he seemingly slowly goes insane the longer he stays on this forsaken island just off the coast of the city we know so well. Maybe it’s Lehane’s characters or maybe the way that he portrays the plot to his readers; whatever the reason, Shutter Island does not allow you to leave once you have arrived.

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