The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Having recently read and enjoyed Blue Asylum I was interested to see how this book compared. At first appearing very similar - both set in the 19th century, both with heroines who have been placed in asylums by their husbands, and both featuring a natural longing to escape. Yet they are both extremely different stories with unique characters and a completely different feel to them.
In the painted bridge we meet Anna, recently married, taken on an outing to "visit friends" by her older, well respected, religious husband, who discovers to her horror that he has brought her not to a warm family home but to a run down mansion used as an asylum for women where he abandons her, having convinced the medical profession (with little more than a willingness to pay the fees) that she is mad and hysterical, and the more she protests her sanity, the more it makes her seem to fit the bill of hysteric.
She reluctantly accepts her fate and begins to mix with the other inmates, whilst undergoing some truly terrible "treatments" evident to us as torture.
A regular visitor to Lake House asylum is a physician - Lucas St Clair, who is experimenting with the new medium of photography to try and reveal the womens states of mind from the traits and expressions revealed in photographs. Drawn to Anna he seizes the chance to photograph her, hoping he may discover her innocence, yet fearing he may reveal further madnesses.
As Anna gets to know the other madwomen locked alongside her she discovers truths about her own background and learns about what almost all the women have in common - husbands or families who want them locked away for varying reasons. She meets and befriends Catherine, the Asylum Manager's fragile daughter whome she hopes may help her effect an escape, which she plans, whilst gazing at the pretty painted bridge in the houses grounds.
The characters are beautifully written, especially the women, you can't help but empathise with their plights. The story is subtle yet demanding, I just couldn't put it down once I'd started it.
If you enjoy well researched historical fiction set in the Victorian era and like strong, believeable heroines with plenty of character you'll love the Painted Bridge, and maybe you'll never feel quite as comfortable again, being taken to visit friends of your husband in the countryside! Highly recommended.
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