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Old 03-19-2012, 12:18 PM   #1
WT Sharpe
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Book Club March Discussion: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (spoilers)

Let's discuss the March MobileRead Book Club selection, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. What did you think?

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Old 03-20-2012, 08:23 AM   #2
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Is it this time already?? Wow. I'm no where near finished with the book as yet.
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Old 03-20-2012, 02:18 PM   #3
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It so happens that my family lived in Boston in 1954, and I remember the hurricane! I think it was called Alice. I was only three years old at the time, and what I remember most is that a big tree next to our house was knocked down by the storm.

I'm not going to go on a long rant about this, but I didn't like how the book turned out. Because he was insane, it could be argued that nothing in the book really happened and it was all a figment of his imagination. If he didn't really meet Rachel Solando in the cave, why think that anything else in the book happened?

I was reminded of Paul Auster's City of Glass, the first book of "The New York Trilogy" which I read some years ago, in which the protagonist also turned out to be insane.

I also felt that since we don't know what eventually (long term) happened to Andrew, the author was essentially toying with the reader. Was Dolores really wet when he killed her, or was that part of his imagination too. Did he kill her and the children, or was this a case of two insane people married to each other? I guess I like my mysteries solved when the book ends.

I will admit that for a while in the middle of the book, the author had me scared/concerned for Teddy's safety, as the spectre of out of control government agents using drugs to ruin a person's life is scary and (as we have seen in some Army cases from decades ago) not impossible.
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Old 03-20-2012, 02:49 PM   #4
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I loved this book! I have not seen the movie before so I was constantly reassessing through the book what I thought was reality. It kept me guessing up until the end which I thought was clever. I did not expect the plot twist.

I had a different interpretation. I think his wife did kill their children and he killed her, and it was those events that contributed to his insanity. I think what happened to him long-term is that he gets the lobotomy. What we don't know is what was reality for him at the end. Did he truly regress like he had in the past? Or did the elaborate plot by the doctors to make him lucid work and he pretends it didn't because he can't live with the reality that his children are dead and he murdered his wife and he'd rather be lobotomized to be unaware? Quite a shocking and brilliant ending, I thought.
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Old 03-20-2012, 02:59 PM   #5
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I agree. It kept me guessing all the way through, with a heaping helping of red herring to keep me off guard. I did feel sorry at the end for Drs. Cawley and Sheehan who had banked so much of their reputations on a positive outcome of the treatment.
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Old 03-20-2012, 03:25 PM   #6
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I have to agree with GA Russell. I thought the ending made no sense. Especially when one considers that the whole story is supposedly told from the point of view of an aged Dr. Sheehan from his memory. To much of the story just does not fit that.

It was effective as a thriller right up until the ending, but that ending made no sense. If the whole story was an elaborate fantasy created by Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan, as well as all the other staff that would have been required to go along seemingly being a part of the elaborate secret experiments while dropping warning hints to Edward/Andrew, what was the purpose? Alternatively if all of that was just in Andrew's imagination, what of it really happened? Meeting Rachel in the cave? Destroying Dr. Cawley's car. His conversation with the warden? All of these details were later related to Dr. Sheehan by Andrew so that Dr Sheehan can write the memoir? To seize on one particular incident near the end where Andrew 'shoots' Dr. Cawley. Supposedly Andrew really was in the military and then a Federal marshal, yet he mistakes a squirt gun for a real revolver? Not going to happen.
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Old 03-20-2012, 03:35 PM   #7
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Having seen the movie the book didn't have me guessing at all, since the movie was very true to the book.
If I hadn't seen the movie I'm sure I would have been as clueless as I was when I watched the movie! I'm usually pretty good at figuring things out, but not this time, and I loved that!
I do agree that the ending sort of makes the rest of the book (or movie) not making much sense, but to be honest, I don't care! Loved it anyway!
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Old 03-20-2012, 03:44 PM   #8
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I have to agree with GA Russell. I thought the ending made no sense. ...Supposedly Andrew really was in the military and then a Federal marshal, yet he mistakes a squirt gun for a real revolver? Not going to happen.
Once they make that leap into La-La Land, people's fantasies can become pretty elaborate. As a teenager, I was a medic working on the cardiac ward in Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii. We once had a patient, and older man, who was suffering DTs (delirium tremors). He was angry and was demanding to see the head of the hospital because he claimed the nurses had "switched arms" on him. He knew it wasn't his arm because his arm "didn't have flowers growing out of it." I suppose if someone in a delusional state can fail to recognize a part of his own body that I assume he'd had for quite a while, an hallucinating U.S. Marshall could mistake a squirt gun for the real deal.
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Old 03-20-2012, 05:16 PM   #9
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I'm another who thought the ending was a con job. I hate cheap gotcha moments. Because after the shock, the immediate reaction is a huge so what? Everything that's happened in the book is negated and it's hard to care. I thought Lehane was making some points about the various schools of psychiatry and treatment, but since the exposition counted for nothing at all, there goes that.

In justice to Lehane, I think it was fair enough. There were enough clues and shame on me for not seeing the anagrams--they usually jump out at me. I'm embarrassed to admit that I got so far as thinking that Chanal and Laeddis were peculiar names but didn't take the final step.

I'm disappointed for another reason, although it's not the book's fault. I've always thought that someday I'd give Lehane a try for the local color. Now it'll be a long time before I try one of his traditional detective novels set in Boston.
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Old 03-20-2012, 05:30 PM   #10
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And the different takes on the ending is why I LOVE the book...because you don't "really" know if it was a con job on Lehanes part.

And the fact that it just completely leves the end up to your own interpretation means it'll be with you, at least it was for me, much longer.
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Old 03-21-2012, 02:55 PM   #11
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Can a book be ruined by a bad beginning?
I think so. And the first 10% of "Shutter Island" is too pleonastic to be good. I can see the purpose of the narration of Teddy's life and his relation with the sea, but it's too weak to be useful. And the doctor's memoir is just useless. And boring.
The novel takes off when Teddy and Chuck get to the island, and the book could begin exactly there, giving the few useful information about Teddy's past in next few pages. But it has to be shown, not told. And here's where Lehane failed the most. The action was too bland, and characters' motivation wasn't strong enough. If it wasn't for this Book Club, I'd have dropped the book after a few paragraphs.
But when Teddy and Chuck first meet the doctors, the novel jumps on another level, and the story begins to have a certain grip on the reader.
The plot itself is not bad: the whole illusion vs. reality idea is rather old and hackneyed, but in this novel it's taken from a fresh (at least for me) viewpoint. Even if the idea of the main character gradually revealing a big conspiracy which simply does not exists is nothing new (think Philip K. Dick), I like the idea to hide it in plain sight in a psychiatric hospital.
Not a bad plot, I said, but not a great one, even. At the end, when all the pieces of the puzzle fit into place, I still wonder what made patient 67 so special to involve for several days the whole hospital staff and even some other patients in a big show put on in a really stressful moment just for his benefit. Can you think about the costs?
And if I'm not buying it, it means that Lehane wasn't able to deliver the straight of Cawley's motivation. Again, it's too weak. And, most of all, it's told not shown. It's the crucial point of the whole book: there's no conspiration, there are no super-soldier experiments; it's just a treatment put up to forward some new psychiatric theory. It's the main driver of all the book story. And it's relegated in a narration? Just casually told by the Doctor himself? No way. Show, don't tell! Motivation has to be told in terms of action, and you can not spread that action in the whole book! Be specific, for fiction's sake! In that climatic scene, when the good doctor reveals the truth about Andrew, you cannot really read "I care for you". And not even "I've devoted my career and life to this new stuff, and I won't let you take it down".
On the other hand, Teddy's motivation is evident in more than one scene. He goes trough his share of physical suffering to get to that damn lighthouse, where he can finally expose the madness af these modern time Dr Moreau... Still, in other parts of the book his motivations get mixed up: is he really after Justice, or he's just seeking some cathartic vendetta?
Bottom line, if you don't have high expectations "Shutter Island" is a likable thriller and a pleasant reading. But if you're looking for a real page-turner with a spotless twisted plot that can stand a close inspection, it may not be placed in your top ten.

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Old 03-21-2012, 03:51 PM   #12
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I liked the book. I had seen the movie previously, but had forgot most of it.

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Can a book be ruined by a bad beginning?
I think so. And the first 10% of "Shutter Island" is too pleonastic to be good. I can see the purpose of the narration of Teddy's life and his relation with the sea, but it's too weak to be useful. And the doctor's memoir is just useless. And boring.

...
Come to think of it, I agree. I found I got a little bored in the beginning.

P.S.

"pleonastic" my new word for the day.
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Old 03-21-2012, 06:02 PM   #13
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At the end, when all the pieces of the puzzle fit into place, I still wonder what made patient 67 so special to involve for several days the whole hospital staff and even some other patients in a big show put on in a really stressful moment just for his benefit. Can you think about the costs?
Hah! I had the exact same thought.

I also agree that the "it was all a dream" trope is very tired. Once Dallas resorted to it, it should have been shelved for all time.
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Old 03-21-2012, 08:29 PM   #14
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Well, the idea of a central character's reality being illusion has been around since at least 1920 when The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was on the silent screen, but I thought it was done in an engrossing manner, and the cost of what they were doing wasn't a problem for me as it involved an experimental treatment the doctors were hoping to prove successful. Were they taking these measures with each of their patients, I could understand the objections as a plot device, but this was an experiment they were trying with only one.

I really enjoyed this book.
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Old 03-21-2012, 10:35 PM   #15
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I didn't read the book for the challenge, but I remember when I turned that last page and read the ending, I immediately went back to page 1 and started reading again. I had to see all the clues that I'd missed the first time around. (I do admit to liking "gotcha" endings, though, when they're rare and don't feel cheap).

Mystic River is still my favorite Lehane book, though. And to issybird, I'd still suggest trying his detective series. I read them at least 10 years ago, but what I remembered was they were "typical" in that they were procedurals, but "atypical" (at least, IMO) in the way they dug into the human psyche. I always assumed it was because of his and his wife's background in social work.
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