Reader’s Journal: Shutter Island

The problem with reading a book like Shutter Island and trying to discuss it on a blog is that while you want everyone to stop what they’re doing and run out and get a copy of this book right now, you also realize that it’s almost impossible to say anything convincing without giving away important pieces of the plot. In an indirect way I’ve been a Dennis Lehane fan, if only because I’ve enjoyed the movies based on two of his other books, Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River. When I saw the trailer for Shutter Island at the theater over the holidays, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of the book first.

When the story opens, Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal, and his partner Chuck Aule, are on a ferry to Shutter Island, where a former Civil War fort and its surrounding buildings have been turned into a sort of compound/hospital for the criminally insane called Ashecliffe. The men have been called to the island to investigate the disappearance of a patient there named Rachel Solando, who has gone without a trace. As Teddy and Chuck follow the course of the investigation, we learn the truth about why they are really at Ashecliffe, and what the true motives are of the people who brought them there.

And that’s about all I can tell you. Seriously. I would not dare deprive you of this terrific story by giving anything away. Lehane has paced events in this book impeccably. When I read suspenseful books or watch suspenseful movies, I try as hard as I can to suspend that part of my brain that starts looking for the answers right away. Lehane has created such believable characters, told their stories so well, and created such a terrific atmosphere for the story, it’s easy to be distracted from what’s really happening.

I definitely plan to see the movie, but I admit I wonder what my reaction will be now that I know the ending. I am going to go ahead and say that I think you should read the book first, even if you are planning to see the film, mainly because Lehane is such a skillful writer. I look forward to reading the rest of his books, and to seeing his episodes of The Wire, to which Bob and I are officially addicted after watching the first two seasons. We have a tendency to talk about the characters and the story lines as though they are real people and events. Sad, no?

Read Teresa’s review of the audio book here.

Some passages to entice you (but also keep you in the dark):

Since that trip as a boy, Teddy had never enjoyed being out on the water, took no pleasure from such lack of land, of visions of land, things you could reach out and touch without your hands dissolving into them. You told yourself it was okay–because that was what you had to do to cross a body of water–but it wasn’t. Even in the wat, it wasn’t the storming of the beaches he feared so much as those last few yards from the boats to the shore, legs slogging through the depths, strange creatures slivering over your boots.

They’d looped around the back of the compound, met more manacled gardeners and orderlies, many hoeing a dark loam against the rear wall. One of the gardeners, a middle-aged woman with wispy wheat hair gone almost bald on top, stared at Teddy as he passed, and then raised a single finger to her lips. Teddy noticed a dark red scar, thick as licorice, that ran across her throat. She smiled, finger still held to her lips, and then shook her head very slowly at him.

“But, boss? I need to know what to expect. I’m serious. We got to get our shit straight or we’ll end up in some new Kefauver Hearing or something. Everyone’s looking these days, you know? Looking in at all of us. Watching. World gets smaller every minute.” Chuck pushed back at the stand of bushy hair over his forehead. “I think you know about this place. I think you know shit you haven’t told me. I think you came here to do damage.”

The warden made an appearance, driving into the compund with three guards in a jeep, the water churning out from the tires. The warden noticed Chuck and Teddy standing idly in the yard, and it seemed to annoy him. He was taking them for orderlies, Teddy realized, just as Cawley had, and it pissed him off that they didn’t have rakes or water pumps in their hands. He drove past, though, his head snapping forward, on to more important things. Teddy realized he had yet to hear the man’s voice, and he wondered whether it was as black as his hair or as pale as his skin.

And the trailer!

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7 comments

  1. Priscilla….Terrific review and yay for the no spoilers! I am 1/2 way through the audio version of this book and really enjoying it. We also plan to see the movie after watching the trailer.

  2. I was really intrigued when I saw the trailer for the movie, but didn’t know (until recently) that the movie was based on a book… or that this was the same author who penned Gone, Baby, Gone (which I haven’t read but did see and was actually very impressed/surprised with). I don’t know if I’ll wind up reading the book as I really do have far too many books that currently need to be read, but I know I’ll see the movie!

  3. I picked this book up on a remainder table several years ago, and it’s been read by every member of my family and most of my friends. Great value on that one!

    It’s a wonderful story, and the ending was a complete surprise. I’m looking forward to the movie.

  4. Steph, it’s so difficult for me not to say YOU MUST READ IT! It’s a different feel than Gone, Baby, Gone (at least from the movie), being set in a different time (1950s) and in a confined space, covering only four days….Lehane is a master at pacing a story, that’s all I can say. 🙂 Hopefully Scorsese will do it justice.

    Becca, the ending was a complete surprise for me as well. I thought it was going in another direction entirely, and even then I wasn’t sure…I love to be surprised. It’s so well done.

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