Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane Book Review

I’ve seen the DiCaprio movie ages ago and when I saw the book that inspired the movie during my charity shop runs, I decided to give it a go.

While I vaguely remembered the plot, I thought the book had a good premise and interesting characters, enough to keep me entertained for a few hours.


Unfortunately, these is one of those rare occasions where the movie was actually better than the book and I could not wait to put it down and start another read.

“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?”

The novel is set of the Massachusetts’s coast in an army facility turned hospital for the criminally insane.

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 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 remotely what it seems.

Teddy is not the most reliable of narrators. Why? Because he’s still devastated by the death of his wife. He can’t think of her without remembering the tragic way she’d died.

“But as the years passed, he missed her more, not less, and his need for her became a cut that would not scar over, would not stop leaking.”



As the men are trying to investigate the cryptic messages Solando left behind, there is a number which keeps popping up. Thirteen. This is a magic number is most cultures and for the inmates, it’s close to divine. What I really liked about the book is the fact that they spend a lot of time delving in the nitty-gritty of schizophrenia, of delusional individuals and of people who suffer from things that could be considered normal today. (reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey)

“The brain controls pain. It controls fear. Sleep. Empathy. Hunger. Everything we associate with the heart or the soul or the nervous system is actually controlled by the brain. Everything. What if you could control it?”


“She smiled darkly and shook her head. ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not. Of course what else would a crazy person claim? That’s the Kafkaesque genius of it all. If you’re not crazy but people have told the world you are, then all your protests to the contrary just underscore their point. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Teddy suffers from migraines, which Chuck quickly picks up on during their arrival on the ferry and Chuck never fails to have cigarettes handy. Both men have some baggage, both have their stories.

Upon arrival to the facility, the marshals have to surrender their weapons and begin their investigations. They quickly figure out, that things are strange around. The ratio of wardens to patients, the gambling habits of the wardens, the interviews of personnel and patients….things kinda don’t add up.

My favorite part of the book was the what added the psychological thriller: an insane person will claim he or she is not insane. Ergo, if you claim you are sane, you are insane. All the witnesses were unreliable, but we have to trust what the protagonist sees and believes until he figures out the next clue. Throw in conspiracy theories, and you never know what to trust.

I loved the story shift and the foreshadowing and that even though he couldn’t figure out why, Daniels could tell he couldn’t trust these people. There were some brilliant moments, like the scene with Noyce that could be misconstrued one way or the other, depending on which story option you believe.

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Teddy is actually an inmate himself. He got committed after the death of his wife and his favorite pastime was looking at ways to escape the island along with his fellow inmates.

In one clear moment of lucidity, he realizes that his doctor is really his doctor and that he’s a patient but towards the end, he reverts back to trying to escape as fiction is sometimes better than cruel reality. There was never a Rachel Soldado. Her name was an anagram of his doctor. 13 letters.

The name ‘Andrew Laeddis’ looks made up when compared to the name of ‘Edward Daniels’. That is to say that Edward Daniels is the source of the anagram, not the re-arranged product.

Teddy Daniels’s real name is Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels. He is a pyromaniac who burnt down his own apartment, killing four people—one of which was his wife. He is also a conspiracy theory buff. In his extreme mental distress at learning that his fire killed his wife, he broke down and dissociated himself from reality. He created a new history. In this new history, a hideous man named Andrew Laeddis (really a reflection of the ugly and unbearable side of himself) was the man who “lit the match that caused the fire that killed [his] wife.” Andrew Laeddis was sent to Shutter Island. To explain his own existence on Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels remade himself as a U.S. Marshal, originally sent here to hunt down Andrew Laeddis.

He tells the doctors that he accepts their narrative in order to avoid lobotomy. However, sitting on the steps outside, he reconsiders and decides that lobotomy would be better than chasing Andrew Laeddis for the rest of his life: he figures they’ll just try to keep forcing this lake house narrative on him over and over again. When asking whether it’d be “better to live as a monster or die a good man,” Teddy is making a choice to take the lobotomy and thus die a good man. He refuses to accept the reality that he is just a maintenance man whose wife died because of his pyromania, and is instead perpetually stuck in a delusion in which he is Teddy Daniels, U.S. Marshal hunting down Andrew Laeddis (an entity created in his disassociative disorder), the man who killed his wife.

Good book but still, liked the movie better.
[imdb id=”tt1130884″]

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