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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island (2003)

by Dennis Lehane

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,771256735 (3.91)352
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    Memory's Ghost: The Nature Of Memory And The Strange Tale Of Mr. M by Philip J. Hilts (Gregorio_Roth)
    Gregorio_Roth: Because the book is a true tale about what is memory and how it affects the person.
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    Gregorio_Roth: Dennis Lehane stated in an interview that the book is in part a homage to Bronte's work.

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» See also 352 mentions

English (243)  French (5)  Swedish (4)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  All (255)
Showing 1-5 of 243 (next | show all)
Shutter Island is fairly unique and contains many twist and turns through out the story. You totally believe everything Teddy is going through, then start doubting the same things he does, and eventually question him. There is so much going on and you can come up with many theories on your own and that is all part of the fun. The 4th day part is well done and explained very well, so the reader can follow along. The reason why this book got a 4 star and not a 5 star is simply because of the last few pages. I understand what Lehane was going for, but I felt it was rushed and not set up properly to have much of an affect. I don't expect him to explain what happened, that's an open ended and left to the readers imagination, but the set up and the last few lines made it feel corny and left me thinking, well of course it would end that way. Even with the disappointing ending this book was well written and though out, and overall was a good read. ( )
  wellreadcatlady | Jul 9, 2018 |
Not my kinda book.
  buffalogr | Jun 23, 2018 |
This novel has the following hyperbole published with it in its pocket paperback edition (2004)


“Brilliantly conceived and executed...” The Washington Post 's “Book World”

“Utterly absorbing...and engrossing read.... The Boston Globe

“...it evokes comparisons to Edgar Allan Poe's tales...” The Houston Chronicle

“...a master of his craft...” The Austin American-Statesman

“A superbly written unrelentingly suspenseful page-turner...” The Associated Press


I never once thought of Poe's mysteries while reading this novel; nor would it occur to me to compare the writing talents of Poe to those of Lehane.

For me, the problems in this book's story craft started right on page one of chapter one where we read,

“They'd left in the dark, and when the sun appeared, it was a cold ivory that pushed up from the edge of the sea, and the islands appeared out of the fading dusk, hundled together, as if they'd been caught at something.”

If they left in the dark and we're told of the sun, a cold ivory, pushing up from the sea, then the correct term for what is now “fading” is not “dusk”—which occurs at sunset—but dawn, which comes with the first rays of the new day's sunrise.

Second, as a simile, it's bad enough to describe islands as “huddled together.” To huddle is an animate act. Perhaps islands might be said to “huddle”—at what is still quite a stretch—when some very violent volcanic action is first forming them, throwing them up from the sea-bed. But that rarity apart, islands don't and can't “huddle” and they certainly can't “huddle as if they'd been caught at something.

This misbegotten image is only the first of numerous other botched similes. It's typical of awkward imagery which Lehane attempts much too often through similes which are simply absurd. Rather than being vivid they are jarring and they halt the attentive reader's progress instead of helping to enliven the picture as the story unfolds. Almost without exception, Lehane's imagery depends on these jarring incoherent similes which are obstacles to that unfolding. He often concludes a bad simile with the vague term “something,” as here with “as if they'd been caught at something.” Why not at least insert a particular rather than the indefinite “something” there? As if they'd been caught (what)? or, better, these islands might appear as though they were people huddled together, caught in the comission of a common misdeed.” Islands—as land forms—are inanimate, they don't huddle, they don't care about been seen or caught since there is nothing “they” are “up to.”

Shutter Island, which, we're told, “lay (once more) like something tossed from a Spanish galleon:

“Out past them all, the one they called Shutter lay like something tossed from a Spanish galleon.”

Again, I think a better writer should actually have something credible in mind for an island which is likened to a thing (something) “tossed from a Spanish galleon.” What might some of these be? And how many of them could credibly be likened to an island? Like a “hat” tossed from a Spanish galleon? An empty wine cask? A pig's carcass? Any of these are better than the vague, “like something tossed from a Spanish galleon.” But the better sentence is the one in which this absurd simile is removed:

“Out past them all lay the one called Shutter Island.”

Next comes this:

“His father was surprised because Teddy hadn't begun to vomit until until hours into the trip when the ocean was flat and glistening with its own quiet.

Similarly, the better course should have been to leave out the ridiculously jarring association of the water's surface “glistening” and “its own quiet,” giving us something like

“His father was surprised because Teddy hadn't begun to vomit until until hours into the trip when the ocean was flat and glistening .”


“His father was surprised because Teddy hadn't begun to vomit until until hours into the trip when the ocean was flat, glistening and quiet.”

In the next page we read of St. Theresa's Church described as having “its back pressed hard against the same sea that had claimed so many of its parishoners,”....

On page 12, we have (mirrored) “glass eroded by sea salt.” How is this supposed to happen? As I understand it, glass is not degraded by contact with salts. A mirror's silvering may be. But the glass itself is quite hardy and neither sea-water nor salt wears it down or degrades it. If glass is found at the sea bottom in a degraded state, that's due to something like the activity of currents or animal-life working on it, not the salt in the sea-water.

(page 20)
“What was far crueler were the ways in which a seemingly illogical list of objects could trigger memories of his wife that lodged in his brain like a lit match.”

On first reading, I took this to mean what it says, that the memories themselves “lodged in his brain like a lit match.” On re-reading, I grasped his meaning to have been more this way:

“What was far crueler were the ways in which objects, like a lit match or a seemingly illogical list of other objects, could trigger memories of his wife.”

Once we understand that what is triggered here is a memory—not a lit match—there's no need to specify that this is lodged in his brain since that is where we find memories lodging.

(page 21) “A dull ache settled into the left side of his head, just below his eye, as if the flat side of an old spoon pressed there.”

I'm at a loss for why the spoon should be old and for where to look for its “flat side”, spoons being, as far as I know, curved. And I'm not sure why any piece of table silverware wouldn't have been just as ache-inducing if it were pressed in the same place. Wouldn't the curved side of a new spoon have been just as good a basis for this pain?

(page 26) “mollusk skeltons” Do mollusks have skeletons?--and, if they do, aren't they better known as “shells”?

On the next page, “They” (Teddy and Chuck,) “continued on, climbing a slope that was steep and wild with sea grass before the land greened and softened around them, leveling out up top as the grass grew shorter, gave way to a more traditional lawn that spread back for several hundred yards before coming to a stop at a wall of orange brick that seemed to curve away the length of the island.”

A verb or verb-phrase would have been a welcome addition to this sentence-fragment: a verb or verb phrase such as “before reaching” or “before arriving” or “before they reached” or “arrived” “at a place where,”... “up top, the land greened and softened around them, leveling out as the grass grew shorter, gave way to a more traditional lawn that spread back for several hundred yards before coming to a stop at a wall of orange brick that seemed to curve away the length of the island.” Without some such verb, the sentence is lacking in motive force. They “continued on”--but we're left to guess that they're (probably) continuing to climb.

This is why it is odd to read next that the prison hospital's warden, presumably ahead of them if not, indeed, still on ground higher above them “then walked down the slope from which they'd come,” …. “From which they'd come”? Wasn't it “up which they'd come”? It would not occur to me to think of the heroes Teddy and Chuck coming from a slope in any direction other than down --they walked down from a slope, but going up, as was already explained, they'd be climbing and, again, I don't associate “climbing up” a slope with “coming from a slope”.

(page 41) … “the sound as soft and persistent as snow falling on a roof.”

Better : “soundless and persistent—as snow falling on a roof.”

I have long experience in snowy climates and I can assure you that snow falling makes no sound whatsoever. (Of course, avalanches are another matter, although, yes, they consist of snow, and, in a certain special sense, that snow is “falling”--specifically, its descending rather than “falling”) but I don't think that it's in this sense that Lehane is referring to the the soft and persistent snow's "sound." Whatever the wind may be doing, the snow itself is completely silent—indeed, that is one of its most well-known and “poetic” “blessings.”

(page 43) “The eyes were themselves too wide, as if something hot were prodding them from inside her head .”

Why “hot”? Wouldn't cool or cold also work as well? A better sentence would read,

“The eyes were themselves too wide.” But are they “too wide” in the sense of their being open “too wide-open” or are they set too wide apart? Or neither of these?

(page 76) “That soft music crawling around the room like spiders.”

“That soft music filling the room,”....

“crawling around the room like spiders” simply doesn't apply to music.

I want to end on a positive point. At one point in the story, a character gestures, points, with the cigarette she is smoking.

(page 114)

... “ 'I doubt I'd go out and kill someone again, but you never can tell.' She pointed the tip of her cigarette in their direction. 'I think if a man beats you and fucks half the women he sees and no one will help you, axing him isn't the least understandable thing you can do.' ”

This imagery works wonderfully. It is vivid, it fits the occasion properly, indeed, perfectly, and doesn't jar the reader—for once—except to pause to appreciate a rarely-employed choice bit of imagery. The image ("she pointed the tip of her cigarette in their direction") is not strained and this example isn't over-used elsewhere so it does not become a tiresome device in the rest of the novel. It shows that this author can sometimes employ some imagery quite well. Unfortunately it's too rare that he does that and much too often that he uses similes which are completely out of place—if, indeed, it's even possible to imagine them ever having a proper place.

If you're wondering whether any of this matters--these pace-wrecking botched similes--yes, they do matter. Writing is all about which words to leave in and which to remove, once the words are down in the first or the succeeding drafts.

And if you can't have any sympathy for the final readers then try to have some for the German or French or Spanish, Italian, or other translators who are faced with translating into their own language a sentence such as “That soft music crawling around the room like spiders.” ( )
  proximity1 | May 19, 2018 |
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's engaging and easy to read. I had however, seen the movie before reading the book, and feel that this is one of the rare cases where doing it in that order spoils the book. I loved the movie, but the book didn't seem to quite carry the same atmosphere.

One small thing - the author seems to use a lot of very long flow-on sentences - in at least one instance, a paragraph of more than a quarter of a page was one sentence. It may be a deliberate creative choice, but it comes off looking a little amateurish. A small criticism for what is otherwise a compelling read. ( )
  adam.currey | Apr 16, 2018 |
This was a very good book in my opinion. Most of the characters were quite believable and the ones that weren't, we find out later, weren't supposed to be. The plot or the fccus of the book remains the same throughout; Teddy is to find a missing patient that has escaped or disappeared. However, there are many twists and turns in the story that you begin to wonder if that is all we was sent there to do. It is not until the final pages of the book that you realize what is happening and, for me, I still was taken by surprise. At the end I just kept saying "Really", "This is how it all REALLLY turns out for him?".

I am now ready to go see the movie with Leonardo DeCapprio in the lead roll as Teddy. I think that he will do the part justice. ( )
  PamV | Mar 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 243 (next | show all)
Moving out from the working-class Boston neighborhoods where his hard-boiled private eyes and blue-collar cops normally conduct their realistic business, Dennis Lehane takes a leap into unknown genre territory in SHUTTER ISLAND (Morrow, $25.95). But whichever genre he's aiming for in this misguided effort -- psychological suspense, cold war thriller or Grand Guignol melodrama -- he misses it by a nautical mile.
The primary force of this book comes from Teddy's grief and his anguished memories of World War II, when he helped liberate inmates at Dachau. ... But its hidden power has a different source: Mr. Lehane's insight into his book's most disturbed figures. Suffice it to say that this is a deft, suspenseful thriller that unfolds with increasing urgency until it delivers a visceral shock in its final moments. When it comes to keeping readers exactly where he wants them, Mr. Lehane offers a bravura demonstration of how it's done.
added by eromsted | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Apr 17, 2003)
Verano de 1954. El agente federal Teddy Daniels llega a Shutter Island, isla en la que está ubicado el hospital Ashecliffe, un centro penitenciario para enfermos mentales. Junto con su compañero, Chuck Aule, se propone encontrar a una paciente desaparecida, una asesina llamada Rachel Solando, a medida que un huracán azota la isla. No obstante, nada es lo que parece en el hospital Ashecliffe. Y Teddy Daniels tampoco.¿Ha ido hasta allí para encontrar a una paciente desaparecida? ¿O le han enviado para investigar los rumores acerca de los radicales métodos psiquiátricos que se utilizan en esa institución? Unos métodos que posiblemente incluyan la experimentación con drogas, pruebas quirúrgicas terribles, contraataques mortales en la guerra encubierta en contra de los lavados de cerebro soviéticos...
added by Pakoniet | editLecturalia
Lehane takes a departure form his regular series and takes us to Shutter Island. This is a book that stretched both the author and the reader.

Lehane called his book, homage to gothic, but also homage to B Movies and Pulp!" Teddy is on Shutter Island to find a missing mental patient. As you travel with Teddy the story becomes more and more about Teddy than about the missing mental patient. The job of the reader is to decide what is real and what is make-believe as you travel with the main character Teddy. You hear the whispering echoes of the past as you find more and more clues. All illusions of control and all surefooted terrain ware away as you get deeper and deeper into the twists of the story.

The context of the book has been written once, and then written completely anew, and then twisted once again the third go around of writing this twisted tale. The story line however stays constant and helps one misunderstand the novel. You will read yourself to a knotted rope, for the author has left enough chords to twist around your neck and hang yourself by. Breathing becomes something you need to remind yourself to do as you get caught up in the current of Shutter Island.

The story looks at mental health treatments of the past compared to what methods are used today. Lehane asks his readers, "What is the fine line between treatment and sterilization of the mind?

Enjoy the twisted mind of Dennis Lehane in his book Shutter Island, A definite cluck cluck cluck.
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. . . must we dream our dreams and have them, too?

--Elizabeth Bishop,
"Questions of Travel"
For Chris Gleason and Mike Eigen. Who listened. And heard. And sometimes carried.
First words

May 3, 1993

I haven't laid eyes on the island in several years.
Teddy said, "Who's "she"? Where did "she" come from, Chuck?" - "There's always a she, isn't there?"
Waking, after all, was an almost natal state. You surfaced without a history, then spent the blinks and yawns reassembling your past, shuffling the shards into chronological order before fortifying yourself for the present.
"How many psychiatrists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" - "I don't know. How many?" - "Eight." - "Why?" - "Oh, stop overanalyzing it."
Charm was the luxury of those who still believed in the essential rightness of thing. In purity and picket fences.
He struck Teddy as the kind of guy who needed watching, too secure in his own fulfillment of his parents' wildest dreams.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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One of the editions has the ISBN and cover for Mystic River, not Shutter Island.
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The story takes place in 1954 on Shutter Island, home to a psychiatric hospital called Ashecliffe. U.S. Deputy Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando, who had committed multiple murders. The deputy marshals search the island for the patient as a hurricane bears down on them, and they find that the hospital has practiced sinister measures during its existence.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038073186X, Mass Market Paperback)

The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this remote and barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane bears relentlessly down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades -- with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. But then neither is Teddy Daniels.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, come to Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital in search of an escaped mental patient, but uncover true wickedness as Ashecliffe's mysterious patient treatments propel them to the brink of insanity.… (more)

» see all 17 descriptions

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