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Shutter Island

A book by Dennis Lehane.

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Shut Inside My Own Head With This One

  • Jan 5, 2010
Around August of 2009, I was in the bookstore looking for a new book and came across Shutter Island.  I rather like Dennis Lehane.  He's a man who doesn't get nearly as much credit as he deserves.  At the time when I bought the book it didn't occur to me that a movie adaptation was right around the corner.  As I dived in, I was taken away by the story and Dennis Lehane's awesome writing abilities.  What you get is a mystery/thriller mixed in with a bit of horror.

Former U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule are called out to Shutter Island to a place called Ashecliffe Hospital.  A hospital for the criminally insane.  It turns out a patient by the name of Rachel Solando (who has been imprisoned for murdering her kids apparently brought on by Schizophrenia)  has disappeared from her cell in the middle of the night.  This wouldn't look so bad if it weren't for the fact that it seems as though she escaped a little too easily.  There's nothing amiss in her room, and even worse is how she managed to sneak by all the different people on staff.  Teddy and Chuck only have a matter of time to find her because a Hurricane is bearing down.  Except there are many twists and turns that take place throughout the story, including Teddy having to deal with his own inner demons as he and Chuck discover that there's something very wrong with Shutter Island.  And unfortunately for them... they're stuck on the island.

The story itself is intriguing, which showcases Lehane's strengths as a writer.  He wastes no time jumping into the story and doesn't get a little heavy handed with the backstory and (even better) makes sure that it's not wasted backstory.  A lot of writers have a tendency to go on with backstory that plays no real role in the actual story (John Irving is the writer who comes immediately to mind).  That's not usually a bad thing... it makes the characters more real and more believable, but it often slows down the story itself to tell you things that often times have no real bearings on the story itself.  I LOVE backstory, I just don't like being drowned in it like so many writers have a tendency to do.  Dennis Lehane keeps the story moving only snipping in moments of backstory as more of a means of telling us that it's important.  Yet you do get to know Teddy and like him.  Not only do you like him but you start to feel for him and pull for him.  While Chuck doesn't really get nearly as much attention here he's still an important character.  That's not to say Dennis Lehane makes sure every word and every scene is necessary, but it is to say that he makes sure the story moves at a good pace.  Indeed, Shutter Island is by no means a long book.  It's incredibly short and is over pretty fast.  But it's good and interesting. 

Dennis Lehane maintains simple language throughout as well.  One idea that has always made me weary of literary critics (and a big reason I just don't like most of them) is this idea that if you're book isn't ambitious enough or doesn't present something "new" (as if literature can really do a whole lot of "new" things after being around since man learned how to write) then your book is pretty much useless and a waste of trees.  The other thing that has always struck me as weird is that many of them seem to believe that a book needs to be complex, complicated and have a lot of "meaning."  These ideas aren't total bullshit.  Many of the greatest books ever written have been trying to say something (though in most cases that something is what we made up and not exactly what the original author was really getting at).  It's this idea that when it doesn't it's literary crap.  I'm of the belief that a book doesn't really have to be all that, or that it even has to reach.  I don't read a lot of fiction for the sake of intellectual stimulation... I have a million other books for that.  My purpose is to get enjoyment and make sure that it can be simple.  Literary critics hate when you remind them that throughout history we have made great strides to make Language simple and to keep it from being complex.  Shutter Island entertains.  Is there something it's trying to say?  I'm sure, but even if you can't pull it out it should not suggest in anyway that the book is obsolete or that it's not that great.

Shutter Island doesn't really have a lot that holds it down.  It's not bogged down by having too much exposition and for the most part it's dialog is straight shot true.  There's hardly a moment where the book just doesn't feel right.  On the other hand other things seem a bit too convenient for the sake of plot.  That's never been too bothersome in books to me... the pay off for not doing that is, in most cases, a very long story with so much fluff and filler that the story gets stopped dead because it has to dedicate a moment to explain stuff to you instead of simply letting them fall into place.  I'd rather take convenience and amusing coincidences over that shit anyday.  If anything, however, Shutter Island doesn't do it in a way that feels as though it's come out of left field.  By that I mean there's nothing Deus Ex Machina about that (and Dennis Lehane doesn't exactly dwell into the confines of FATE... and in most cases even gives a logical explanation).  So let's be clear... when reading Shutter Island there's nothing here that hasn't really been done before.  The idea of being trapped on an island brimming with insanity is hardly anything new.  We'v been writing about that forever.  But it is never ideas which are important.  It is always the execution of said ideas.  

What's important about Shutter Island, however, is that it keeps things moving, keeps you involved as the reader and you don't have to sift through a lot of fluff to get through it.  So many writers get bogged down into this idea that the more adjectives and descriptive passages you have the better.  In the case of Shutter Island, less is more.  It keeps things moving thanks in part to its simplicity and is often a joyful ride in the process.  Even in moments where the book seems to slow down, Dennis Lehane keeps his foot on the gas and keeps barreling through it all.

The movie for Shutter Island will be released in 2010 and will be directed by Martin Scorcese.  While it may seem a little different for Marty (there are certainly no gangsters in this one) it might be a treat to see just what he does with it.  Dennis Lehane has had two other books adapted into films.  There was Mystic River which was adapted and made into a film with Clint Eastwood behind the camera and there was Gone Baby Gone which was directed by Ben Affleck.  Both made worthwhile movies, and with Scorcese stepping up to Shutter Island, it might be safe to say that Shutter Island might make a better film than the previous two. 

In the end Shutter Island is just an enjoyable read.  In part because Dennis Lehane knows how to get the ball rolling and in part because the ideas presented within it are intereesting and delightful. 

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July 28, 2010
I was considering reading this after the movie came out; I wonder if I will be ruining the movie if I read the book first? Mainly because I love DiCaprio, and don't want to be disappointed if the book will ruin the movie. Great review.
January 31, 2010
I've yet to read any of Lehane's work so far, but your review may help to change that. You will be gracing us with your review of the film as well, won't you? I can't wait to see what Scorsese does with a story like this. It certainly is outside of his norm, but it has a lot of potential.
January 31, 2010
Dennis Lehane is a pretty good author.  I'm reading The Given Day now which is a newer one and it's also pretty good although it's also very different.
January 31, 2010
So, can we expect a review for the film?
January 31, 2010
Hopefully, if I get around to seeing it.  Which it looks like I will.
January 05, 2010
Great job on the book review. I'm marking it as a TBR novel on my Goodreads account. :)
More Shutter Island (book) reviews
review by . January 01, 2011
Anagrams anyone?
  SHUTTER ISLAND is a novel about a homicidal maniac told by his psychiatrist nearly 40 years after "four strange days of late summer 1954." The focus of events is a fictitious island not far from Boston where stands Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally and violently insane. The psychiatrist narrator Dr Lester Sheehan, writing in May 1993, himself betrays signs of failing memory and growing mental confusion.   The characters most focused on in Dr Sheehan's narrative …
review by . June 22, 2010
   Wow, what a mind-blower!  Though the book takes a while to get going (I was told that nothing gets too crazy until about page 200, which was unfortunately true), it is definitely worth a read.  I wanted to read the book without seeing the movie, and I'm glad I did.  THE BOOK IS WAY BETTER THAN THE MOVIE!!!      Back to the book - Lehane manages to get inside your brain and make you think you're just as crazy as Teddy/Andrew.  The last …
review by . February 24, 2010
So, I made the error of reading this book late into the night and after reading most of it and wrapping it up around 2am, I found that I had no one to share the awesomeness that this book is at that time... which sucked majorly.    Shutter Island started a bit slow for me - I think most books start slow for me, I tend to drag around in those first introductory chapters, unless there is action, of course. But once Teddy and Chuck dock on Shutter Island and begin to learn of the …
review by . October 01, 2010
A couple of Federal Marshalls arrive on an isolated island that houses a high-security Federal prison for criminally insane. They were summoned to investigate a disappearance of a female inmate. They start suspecting that the staff of the prison is not as cooperative as they could be, and Marshalls start suspecting that behind the façade of the mental institution there is a much more sinister operation. This in a nutshell, without giving away any plot details, is the premise of the latest …
review by . September 26, 2010
A couple of Federal Marshalls arrive on an isolated island that houses a high-security Federal prison for criminally insane. They were summoned to investigate a disappearance of a female inmate. They start suspecting that the staff of the prison is not as cooperative as they could be, and Marshalls start suspecting that behind the fa├žade of the mental institution there is a much more sinister operation. This in a nutshell, without giving away any plot details, is the premise of the latest Dennis …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
What an disturbing sets of circumstances in this book. Intense. Good read.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Dennis Lehane does not do well in trying to tell a mental facuiliy inmates strory from the inmates delusional point of view. Poorly done and has no excitement or suspense.
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
crazy! my boyfriend suggested this one
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
A gripping and haunting mystery novel.
review by . February 20, 2010
I'm a reader that hasn't read many detective noir novels. Late last summer I saw the original trailer for the movie version of SHUTTER ISLAND and, as I often do with movies I discover that are based on books, I went out and purchased a copy of the novel by Dennis Lehane to read. It was an absolute page turner. I was quite busy when I started reading the book, but I finished it in a few days time.    The story revolves around U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels. Daniels and his partner, …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book


Boston-area novelist Lehane has written a terrific suspense novel, an impressive follow-up to 2001's Mystic River. Shutter Island is off Massachusetts's coast, an army facility turned hospital for the criminally insane. When a beautiful-and certifiably crazy-patient escapes, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, are called in to investigate. Embroiled in uncertainties and mystery, the two soon learn there's much more at stake than simply finding one missing woman. Stechschulte gives a stirring performance. His portrayal of Daniels is convincing, and he reads the role with equal parts poignancy and toughness. Stechschulte is particularly adept at reading dialogue. For example, one stormy night at the hospital, Teddy and Chuck are playing cards with two of the hospital's workers. The quartet banters, calling each other's bluffs and having a grand old time, yet tones of racism underlie the conversation. Stechschulte handles the dialogue well, distinguishing between each voice and varying the pace between rapid back-and-forth and thoughtful, drawn out remarks.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to theAudio Cassetteedition.
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ISBN-10: 0061703257
ISBN-13: 978-0061703256
Author: Dennis Lehane
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Harper
First to Review

"Excellent thriller"
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