Shutter Island | Dennis Lehane

‘Maybe there are some things we were put on this earth not to know.’

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

A book that didn’t match my expectations

I had liked the movie, but it had left me so puzzled that I still had many questions years after watching it… I dived into the book without any second thought when I was told it might give me more answers.

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane, HarperCollins, 2009
Source: HarperCollins

Well, I can’t say I’m much more enlightened now than I was before. Shutter Island is not an unpleasant read, but it is not the book of the year either. First of all, I was quite disappointed by the writing, which I found quite poor and, at times, boring. It might be suitable for those who are allergic to lyrical sentences and flowery writing, though. Lehane’s style is very straightforward and matter of fact, which also makes it easier to follow the intricate plot.

After a confusing prologue, I was afraid that Shutter Island might be too complicated, too abstruse for me. Nevertheless, despite the complexity of the psychological devices used by the author, the different characters’ opinions and explanations are clearly stated, making it easier to draw up hypotheses as to who Teddy is, and what he is doing on Shutter Island.

Indeed, the U.S. marshal, sent to Shutter Island with his new partner Chuck to investigate the escape of a dangerous criminal from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, will have to question what he thought was true, what he thought was real.

Are doctors really carrying out scientific experimentations on their patients? Is it legal? Do they do it for their patients’ own good? And why are there so many guards, so many orderlies?

A dark and psychological tale

As you can imagine, the novel’s atmosphere is quite dark and tense, but not as frightening as I was expecting. Shutter Island focuses very much on the psychological aspect and relies heavily on dialogues. These are very well done, sharp and clever, maybe a bit too much… The characters’ repartee can feel unreal at times, as if they were rehearsing a play. But they might be rehearsing a play, after all.

The movie’s trailer gives a fairly good idea of the novel’s overall feel (a film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, directed by Martin Scorsese himself!). However, both the book and the adaptation are less scary than they seem at first sight

Set in 1954 America, Lehane’s bestseller raises many interesting questions on various topics, and the answers might be scarier than the island itself. Truth, reality, but also trauma, PTSD, war and violence are broached through the characters’ adventures. To quote one of the protagonists:

‘How much violence do you think a man can carry before it breaks him?’

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

Despite this added depth as well as Chuck and Teddy’s interesting dynamics, I never felt really immersed in the story and, sadly, didn’t find it more enlightening than the movie, which is very similar to the book. I rarely say this, but I am not sure it is worth reading it if you have already watched the film… If, like me, you are still reflecting on Shutter Island‘s ending, I would rather advise you to read Adam James’s excellent article on Looper, which helped me (try to) make sense of it all. But discovering the book can do no harm if you are dying to do so!

My rating

2,5 out of 5: Not unpleasant, but not necessary

About the book

Author: Dennis Lehane
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication year: 2009 (first published in 2003 by George Allen & Unwin)
Page count: 500
ISBN: 978-0061898815

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