19 December 2013

Book Review: The Painted Bridge

Title: The Painted Bridge

Author: Wendy Wallace

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Format: Hardcover, 386 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Review copy provided by publisher

Set in Victorian England, The Painted Bridge is a mesmerizing story about one woman’s desperate plight after her husband conspires to put her in an insane asylum even though she is sane. 

The year is 1859. Anna Palmer innocently accompanies her husband, Vincent, on a trip to Lake House where she thinks they are going to visit friends. She doesn’t know it’s actually a private asylum for women. When her husband suddenly leaves, she is shocked and bewildered by his deceit. Now she is a prisoner.

As the weeks go by, Anna is subjected to increasingly barbaric treatments, and it becomes a struggle for her to survive both mentally and physically. She does make friends though such as Talitha Batt, another patient who appears to be as sane as Anna, and Lucas St Clair, a physician who is experimenting with the new medium of photography as a tool to diagnose mental illness. Anna also initiates a secret friendship with Catherine, the frail teenage daughter of the owner of Lake House.

Anna soon realizes she must escape or be driven mad and she comes up with a bold plan that will ultimately be the catalyst to a surprising upheaval with dramatic consequences. Anna learns details about her husband’s life which exposes the depth of his treachery and wickedness. She also discovers the truth about a family secret which is hugely significant for Anna.

This is a powerful character-driven story that reveals disturbing details about the historical treatment of mental illness and the way husbands held absolute power over their wives during Victorian times. Anna is a very appealing character and seems very real as do all the other characters. It’s particularly satisfying to see how Anna is transformed from a trusting, innocent victim into a formidable heroine.

The reader is immediately immersed in Anna’s world due to the strong sense of time and place, while the historical details are woven neatly into the story. The tension is palpable as the reader roots for Anna in every scene. The way the characters interact and the events unfold makes a very compelling story with an extremely satisfying conclusion.

This is an unforgettable story. I highly recommend it.

The Painted Bridge is the author’s first novel. It was longlisted for the 2013 Desmond Elliott prize.

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