“Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane

My second book by Dennis Lehane and yes, this one has also been a success.

I almost wish I hadn’t seen the movie, even if it was a long time ago, because I already knew the ending and well, that’s a huge spoiler. And I could so see myself, wide-eyed and mouth-open at the page where everything is revealed. (By the way, this review contains spoilers for the book and the movie, so here goes: Spoiler Alert!)

The movie, with Leonardo Dicaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Great movie.

Shutter Island is probably the last place you would want to be. It’s not only an island, thus isolated from the rest of the world, but also a prison. A prison not for the ‘ordinary’ criminals for petty thefts or murders, but criminals that are also, on top of their crimes, mentally deranged. Teddy Daniels, a US marshal, and his newly appointed partner for this task, Chuck Aule, land on the island to find a woman who seems to have vanished from her strictly guarded cell. It’s only three days, but Teddy is confronted with a disturbing swirl of conspiracy and a suspicious world of conspirators, and embarks upon a lonely journey towards the truth.

Where is Rachel Solando, the woman who killed her three children and stubbornly believes she is still living her normal life prior to her unforgivable crime? Where could a deranged woman have hidden on an island where security is of the utmost priority? Where is the doctor in charge? Is Andrew Laeddis, the one who killed Teddy’s wife, and Teddy’s original and true reason for taking on this assignment, really a ‘patient’ of this island? Are the doctors conducting experiments on these patients? Who is Chuck, really? How does Teddy manage to break the intricate “Code of Four”, the only piece of evidence and clue left by Rachel? Is all of this a set up? Has Teddy been tricked into coming to the island?

The questions keep flowing in, one just as curious and unanswerable as the next one, and Teddy steps into this bottomless pit further and further in his thirst for the truth, and as perhaps an attempt to drown his pain and sorrow for having lost his wife some time ago…

[Spoiler alert!]

… only to find out that this is all part of a grand scale role playing in which he is both the main actor and the prisoner/patient at the same time. Teddy is Andrew, Teddy is Rachel. Teddy is the one who killed Dolores, his wife, upon finding out that she had killed all three of their beautiful children. Teddy is the one living in his world of lies to evade from not only the horrible act of murder, but also from his inability to have seen the signs of Dolores’ unstable mental state that led to it all in the first place. In a frail and skeptic attempt at ‘curing’ him, his doctors had decided to play along his fantasies, so that he may finally be convinced to break down the walls of lies he had so thoroughly built and was withdrawing into further and further. This was the last attempt at curing him with the most unconventional and daring method, before finally rendering to the just as drastic, inhumane, but considered standard then, method of lobotomy.

While the doctors’ efforts seem to have finally found their fruits, some time later, Teddy/Andrew is once again set on ‘escaping from the island’ with Chuck. Chuch/Dr. Sheehan has no choice but to consider his attempt a failure.

I remember however in the movie that the ending left the viewers pondering whether Andrew had indeed relapsed, or had only pretended to be so. After all, the main reason he had killed Dolores in the first place was not because he didn’t love her anymore or even because she had mercilessly killed their children. It was because he knew she was in pain and that was the only way to end her suffering. He didn’t want to let her live with the burden of her crime in her deranged mental state. And he had then chosen to escape from reality himself, too afraid to acknowledge that perhaps he could have prevented it all. How then, could he live with the knowledge that he wasn’t Teddy anymore? In the choice of truth and lie, he thought the lie would be less painful to live with, even if that came with the price of a lobotomy.

Once again, Lehane knows how to explore the tumultuous inner world of his characters. The intertwined memories of his time with and love for Dolores and his experiences as a solider in Dachau reveal Teddy/Andrew’s personality, which is only equaled in its complexity by his mental state. But he is also careful not to give away the shocking truth and his moderation allows us readers to feel sympathy for Teddy without having even a soupcon of doubt as to his true life as Andrew.


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