Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
The golden rule is to read the book before even bothering to watch the movie, although I’ve been known to occasionally break that rule. Admittedly, this is one of those rare times and as I’ve learned in the past, there is a certain proactive interference in how you interpret and imagine the story. Thankfully, when it comes to Shutter Island, the book and film are almost synonymous.
The suspense was loaded with questions surrounding the whereabouts of Rachel Solando, the missing patient, Teddy’s past, Dr. Cawley’s masked intentions and what exactly is going on at Ashecliffe Hospital. The mystery builds as Teddy and Chuck investigate, starting with a missing patient to wondering if they will ever be able to get themselves off the island. Sometimes, it’s as if Teddy doesn’t care, his personal connection to the case making it difficult to leave the past behind.
Character-wise, there was little diversity to look forward to. Dr. Cawley was a one-dimensional character as was Chuck, whose only redeeming quality is the levity he balances out Teddy’s intensity with. What propelled the suspenseful plot of Shutter Island, clearly, was Teddy’s candour in his unintentional exploration of the depths of his mind and even his demons. Peppered throughout his quest to solve the mystery surrounding the island, are thoughts concerning his insecurity on being partnered with Chuck who was good with people, his latent suicidal ideation coming to the forefront, and his inability to let go of the horrors of the war and his late wife Dolores.
This twisted romance acting as a shadowing prologue is both painful and wonderful. Teddy’s longing for his wife Dolores is ensconced in ache and ghostly reminiscence, constantly showcasing the wrecked remnants of a man that Teddy really is. I was pulled in by Lehane’s writing style with descriptions like “Those eyes, Teddy thought. Even frozen in time, they howled.” and “…he held her and held her and wept his terrible love into her faded dress.” making me turn page after page, despite knowing the ending.
Not only did Shutter Island deliver in terms of writing style and suspense, it was intriguing because of the themes it tackled, including human experimentation and mental illness.
If you’re fascinated with psychology, I’d say that this book does well to represent the time it was set in, when pharmacology was on the rise and lobotomies were on the fast track to extinction or at least used only as a last resort. At times, the spew of information on topics such as narcotic neuroleptics and the war between the different schools of thought on psychological disorders can sound dry as if it were being taught to you, an amateur effort on the part of the author in convincing the readers, “Yes, I’ve done my research and here’s everything I know.”
Also,having an avid interest in Holocaust literature, I was intrigued by the parallels between Shutter Island’s human experimentation with its patients and that of the Nazis with the Jews. In light of this underpinning, the Nuremberg Code is mentioned a significant number of times, which is fascinating to read up on considering how it has shaped our modern approach to ethical conduction of research.
Overall, I’d recommend reading this book, particularly for its ending which may seem obvious but is fascinating in how the events unfold. Without divulging too much, I find that its ambiguity is perhaps the best part, leaving you to ponder over what it means. For some people, it is quite clear yet there other ways of interpreting the ending which establishes the fact that even after the last page Shutter Island isn’t done with you yet.