Source- Review copy
Publisher- Simon & Schuster
Publication date- May 2012
Synopsis- Outside London behind a stone wall stands Lake House, a private asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. In the winter of 1859, recently-married Anna Palmer becomes its newest arrival, tricked by her husband into leaving home, incarcerated against her will and declared hysterical and unhinged. With no doubts as to her sanity, Anna is convinced that she will be released as soon as she can tell her story. But Anna learns that liberty will not come easily. The longer she remains at Lake House, the more she realises that — like the ethereal bridge over the asylum’s lake — nothing is as it appears. She begins to experience strange visions and memories that may lead her to the truth about her past, herself, and to freedom – or lead her so far into the recesses of her mind that she may never escape… Set in Victorian England, as superstitions collide with a new psychological understanding, this elegant, emotionally suspenseful debut novel is a tale of self-discovery, secrets, and search for the truth in a world where the line between madness and sanity seems perilously fine.
Review- Set in 1859, newly married, young Anna Palmer is tricked into a stint at Lake House, a private asylum for mentally unstable women- by her husband, Vincent.
Anna sees visions of a young boy which her religious husband has tolerated until she gets a calling to leave town and help the survivors of a shipwreck. She returns five days later, dishevelled and oblivious to her husband’s humiliation. He sends her to the ‘retreat’ which Anna soon learns is an involuntary admittance to the psychiatric institution. At the outset Anna knows she isn’t like any of the other women in the asylum and is outraged that she is kept there against her will. But when she speaks her mind and expresses her frustration she is diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ a common term used back in the day to label women who were emotional. Nowadays in its mildest form, it would likely be known as anxiety, but back then was not tolerated.
Anna is determined to get clearance from the doctors that she is of sound mind, but the longer she stays there she realises that if she was ever to go crazy, it would be from remaining at Lake House. As the double-life of her husband is uncovered and his indifference to her admittance, Anna comes up with a plan to escape and find freedom. She enlists the help of the manager’s teenage daughter Catherine who has a probable eating disorder and feels trapped within the walls of Lake House with all the ‘lunatics.’
When all else fails, Anna captures the interest of Lucas St Clair, a visiting physician who uses photography as a diagnostic tool. Initially, he is blinded by his theories and doesn’t see Anna’s sanity as clearly as she does, but his softness for her and intrigue makes him reconsider his judgment.
Anna is a likeable character, with enough mystery to make you wonder whether she is really unstable (?) and enough strength to enlist cheers from the reader to not give up. I was horrified by the range of tests and so-called ‘treatments’ she was subjected to in order to cure her of ‘hysteria’ and ‘mania.’ She was stripped of her dignity and her free-will but still she stood on her own two feet and did not let the asylum break her spirit.
At times The Painted Bridge was slow plot-wise, but it’s a very character-driven story and I think the synopsis is correct in describing it as an ‘emotionally suspenseful novel’ because I was intrigued by the strength of the protagonist to overcome maltreatment and oppression in the times.