Friday, March 26, 2010

Shutter Island

By Dennis LeHane
New York, Harper Collins, 2005

Week 12 Fiction

Well, this was a bad mistake. I saw the movie before I read the book, so a great deal of the suspense was missing from the book. But, it still was compelling enough that I kept reading.

This is the first Dennis LeHane book that I have read, and I read it for my book club in anticipation of a visit by LeHane to the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival in Dowagiac, Michigan, on Friday May 7. ( I think that I am going to have to read another book by LeHane before he comes so that I can get a better feel for his writing without anticipating the next twist and turn.

Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, are US Marshalls. They take a ferry to Shutter Island in Boston Harbor to find a missing patient from the mental hospital on the island. Shortly after they arrive, a hurricane beats down on the island bringing massive amounts of wind and rain. So, their search for the missing woman is hampered by the weather as much as it is by the spooky building, a scary psychiatrist, and criminally insane patients.

We soon discover that Teddy has an agenda for the visit that goes beyond just finding the patient, a woman who murdered her three children. He is there to find the man who set fire to an apartment building, killing Teddy’s wife in the process. But, in ways that I’m assuming are typical of Dennis LeHane, nothing is as it seems. The Marshalls’ visit deteriorates as does the weather, and when the sun finally comes out, we are left with a human tragedy that is beyond our wildest imaginings.

One of the most telling passages of the book is a speech by the psychiatrist toward the end of the book:
“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?”

The author has a keen ear for dialogue and a great understanding of plot, which makes it understandable that so many of his books have been turned into movies. This brings me to the movie. The best thing we could say as we left the theatre was, “Well, that was interesting.” And it was interesting, suspenseful, and sometimes compelling. Outlandish, yes, and you had to suspend disbelief as you bought into the plot line. Here is what my favorite reviewer James Berardinelli had to say about it:
“An atmospheric mind-fuck of a thriller, this movie delights in playing games with the audience's perceptions and has been crafted with such competence that it rises above the somewhat generic storyline that forms the basis of Dennis Lehane's novel. The strength of the film, like the book, is that it never allows the viewer to feel comfortable with what he is watching. That's because Shutter Island is presented from the perspective of an unreliable narrator and, as such, the lines between fantasy and reality sometimes blur so strongly that it's easy to become unanchored in trying to distinguish between what's real and what isn't.”(

The movie is very close to the book, probably because LeHane’s dialogue is already written. I’m going to read something else, perhaps Gone Baby Gone, because I haven’t seen that movie. I’ll let you know!

As a side note, I was watching episodes from season five of The Wire and saw that some of the episodes were written by Dennis LeHane. And I wasn’t surprised.

A not very flattering review of the book in the NY Times.

LeHane’s website is old and not updated. But there are two interviews on the website that are interesting.

No comments: