Review: The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

Description (from cover):

‘Just outside London, behind a high stone wall, lies Lake House, a private asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. In the winter of 1859, Anna Palmer becomes its newest patient. To Anna’s dismay, her new husband has declared her in need of treatment and brought her to this shabby asylum.

Confused and angry, Anna is determined to prove her sanity, but with her husband and doctors unwilling to listen, her freedom will not be easily won. As the weeks pass, she finds other allies: a visiting physician who believes the new medium of photography may reveal the state of a patient’s mind; a longtime patient named Talitha Batt, who seems, to Anna’s surprise, to be as sane as she is; and the proprietor’s bookish daughter, who also yearns to escape.

Yet the longer Anna remains at Lake House, the more she realizes that–like the ethereal bridge over the asylum’s lake–nothing and no one is quite as it appears. Not her fellow patients, her husband, her family–not even herself. Locked alone in her room, driven by the treatments of the time into the recesses of her own mind, she may discover the answers and the freedom she seeks…or how thin the line between madness and sanity truly is.

Wendy Wallace’s taut, elegantly crafted first novel, The Painted Bridge, is a story of family betrayals and illicit power; it is also a compelling portrait of the startling history of the psychiatric field and the treatment of women–in society and in these institutions. Wallace sets these ideas and her characters on the page beautifully, telling a riveting story that is surprising and deeply moving.’ 

My thoughts:

          I really liked the way that this novel portrays the way women were treated back in the Victorian times. A woman could be sane, but her husband or family could put her into an asylum as a way of convenience. Not all the women who were entered into these institutions were insane or needed to be there, but they were placed there against their will by husbands or families who didn’t want to be bothered with them. I find that to be an appalling fact of the age of Victorian-era insane asylums. The methods of ‘curing’ the patients were so inhumane and disgusting that I am glad that there are laws and procedures set in place today for patients who need mental treatment. Some ‘treatments’ that were popular in that time period were placing leeches on a woman’s private parts to cure her of hysteria or to be locked into a shower that rained ice cold water onto the patient and didn’t drain causing the water level to reach the patient’s chin. Most of the time these so called treatments caused the patient to become ‘mad’ or ‘hysterical’ even if they were completely sane when they arrived at the institution.

         This novel also introduces the reader to the new found world of photography. One of the doctors in this book is conducting an experiment that involves taking photographs of the patients and seeing the state of the patient’s mind in the printed photograph. The author shows us the many steps that it took to take a photograph in that time period and how unpredictable a photograph could turn out with the lack of knowledge of chemical procedures that we know of today. Nothing like the cameras we have today by any means. It was quite interesting to learn about this while reading.

        At times I found myself to be utterly confused with this book, was the main character insane or is she sane? I think it’s supposed to be a mystery surrounding the main character, but for some reason it really didn’t work for me. Anna seems to go in and out of lucidity and one minute you know you’re in the present and then the next you’re inside her head. It was weird. It’s good to a certain extent that the minor characters have depth and mystery surrounding them, but the plot line was a little predictable and I wasn’t really surprised by the way things turned out. I like the interaction the main character, Anna, had with the other patients and the staff of the Lake House asylum. It was interesting to see how an asylum was run during that time period. A good read if you’re looking for something that gives you a view into the lesser known world of Victorian-era asylums and photography, but not a good read if you’re looking for an engaging plot.

Overall Rating: 3

Title:  The Painted Bridge
Author:  Wendy Wallace
Series:  N/A
Publisher:  Scribner
Publication Date:  July 17, 2012
Pages:  304
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Disclaimer: This book was selected from the library by myself and I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.

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