In Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall, and his new partner Chuck Aule are headed to Shutter Island to investigate an escape. Shutter Island houses Ashecliffe Hospital, an asylum for the mentally insane who have committed violent crimes, and a female patient/inmate has escaped and is running loose on the island. But Teddy Daniels has an alternate reason for taking the assignment. He has learned through a twist of fate, that the man who set fire to his apartment complex, killing Teddy's wife, is housed in this very same institution. Teddy has managed to convince a senator that unethical research on humans is taking place here, so Teddy is given the recovery assignment so he can come in and covertly find evidence of this practice. Teddy is determined to find his wife's killer and exact his own justice - ethical or otherwise.
Dennis Lehane NEVER ceases to amaze me with the gift he has. He evokes so much emotion from his readers...simply by the way he strings his words together to make sentences and paragraphs. For example, right off the bat in the prologue the reader is painted this incredible picture:
"If time for me really is a series of bookmarks, then I feel as if someone has shaken the book and those yellowed slips of paper, torn matchbook covers and flattened coffee stirrers have fallen to the floor, and the dog-eared flaps have been pressed smooth."
Later in the novel, Rachel says, "...the dreams often stringing together and piggybacking off one another until they come to resemble a novel written by Picasso."
A novel written by Picasso? Who can't imagine that? And every person's image is going to be different, but they are all going to be "abstract."
Both of these quotes epitomize the utter chaos of the insane mind. And in a way, the whole book epitomizes the insane mind. But when you come to the conclusion, it isn't chaos at all; it's a well-formed, intricately layered plot. Every element works significantly and essentially with every other element.
The other looming theme in this book is violence. Is violence truly bad? Or is it an element of us all as the Warden impresses upon Teddy?
God's gift...His violence...God loves violence...Why else would there be so much of it? It's in us. It comes out of us. It is what we do more naturally than we breathe. We wage war. We burn sacrifices. We pillage and tear at the flesh of our brothers. We fill great fields with our stinking dead. And why? To show Him that we've learned from His example...God gives us earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes. He gives us
mountains that spew fire onto our heads. Oceans that swallow ships. He gives us nature, and nature is a smiling killer. He gives us disease so that in our death we believe He gave us orifices only so that we could feel our life bleed out of them. He gave us lust and fury and greed and our filthy hearts. So that we could wage violence in His honor. There is no moral order as pure as this storm we've just seen. There is no moral order at all. There is only this - can my violence conquer yours?
A savage hurricane is the backdrop for the four days of this novel, providing the evidence of Nature's violence. And Teddy comes to the island as a peace-keeper, a law enforcer. But he has a hidden agenda to avenge his wife. Is the warden really that far off base? And in a time when we are in a perpetual state of war ourselves, how can we deny his belief? Aren't we as a people illustrating just that?
If having a phenomenal plot wasn't enough, the character development is outstanding. The range of emotion I felt for Dr. Crawley and Chuck was a range I've rarely experienced with reading. And one I've NEVER experienced with stage or screen performances. Teddy will in all likelihood have to be added to my list of favorite characters. The depth of Teddy's character comes out in his own internal conflict, in his reaction to external conflict and it even comes out through other characters. I cannot detail much more than that without giving spoilers aways, so I'll leave characterization at that.
Despite my raves about the plot and characters, there was one element that was even better...the perspective. Lehane gave this book the perfect voice. It wouldn't have been as suspenseful any other way.
In Shutter Island, I felt big bear arms wrap around me and pull me in; I could not put this book down. Every time I thought I started to grasp what was going on, a new twist evolved. And it wasn't a twist that made you think, "oh pahleeeaze! can he go any more overboard?" It was a twist that made you think, "Holy Cow! I didn't even see that coming, but it was there!" His twists are so convincing and so amazingly weaved into the fabric of the plot, that you start to be on guard. When the conclusion actually started to play out, I was still waiting for another twist. Isn't that what suspense is supposed to be about?
This novel is nothing short of fabulous! A movie version is in the works for 2009. If you haven't already, get out and read this book BEFORE Hollywood butchers it. No movie would be capable of doing Lehane's work justice on this book. It will most definitely make my top 10 for 2008.