Shutter Island Part One: The Novel

Upon sterling recommendations from fellow film blogger John Greco and fellow independent Philly-based novelist Christopher Tait, I decided to make the most of my time waiting for Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island, to be released in theaters by…well, would you look at that…reading the novel.  I was a big fan of previous film adaptations of Lehane’s books, Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, so I was eager to finally dive into the source material. 

In 1950’s Boston, two U. S. Marshals, perpetually lovesick and seasick Teddy (to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and freshly transferred from Seattle Chuck (to be played by Mark Ruffalo) are ferried to a remote island off the coast to a hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of a homicidal schizophrenic patient, Rachel Solando (to be played by Emily Mortimer).  To reveal anything beyond this slim description of the set-up would be to reveal too much.

Shutter Island is a maddeningly thickening mystery where we soon learn the back-stories of our detectives, the doctors and the patients.  Around the 80 page mark I had two solid theories for what might have happened and how the novel would conclude.  It’s a tried and true whodunit/how’d-they-do-it tale where the pleasure of turning the pages is in seeing how your own theories stack up to what is eventually uncovered.

Lehane is a writer who loves to add layers upon layers to his descriptions of people and places and never met a metaphor he didn’t like…chains in a spaghetti pile…or soft music crawling around the room like spiders (p 76).  It certainly maintains an effectively chilling atmosphere, though he can at times go overboard.  The author, however, deserves a heap-load of credit for telling the bulk of his story through police procedural question-and-answer style dialogue.  It’s here where his characters’ personalities (and secrets) are revealed to the reader, and where Lehane as a natural storyteller shines.  It takes a special kind of writer to be able to pull off expository dialogue without revealing the cards, and Lehane maintains a killer poker face while holding a straight flush in this regard.  There’s dark humor and grit to be found here, and these are the classic hallmarks of a great mystery writer.

NOTE TO READERS:  I am about to talk about a big spoiler without actually revealing the big spoiler, so read with caution.

However, about half way through the novel it became painfully clear that one of my two theories on what the final plot twist would be was correct…and sadly it was the most glaringly obvious of plot twists for this type of psychological thriller.  All of the far-fetched elements of the plot are easily explained away with this twist, though the act of explaining everything away after the big revelation becomes a far-fetched endeavor in and of itself.   Though some of the details surrounding the ultimate twist still provided some shocks and jolts, the latter third of the novel falls apart, and for me, all suspense was sucked out as Lehane arrived at the inevitable conclusion.

My initial fear with reading Shutter Island was that it would take any element of surprise away from viewing the upcoming film.  Unfortunately, the book took away its own element of surprise with its predictable “big twist”.  That being said, Lehane still crafted a most entertaining read, and this type of material in the hands of a director like Scorsese and an actor like DiCaprio should be a blast to watch.

Stay tuned for Shutter Island Part Two: The Film coming to movie theaters and The Schleicher Spin in February 2010.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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5 comments on “Shutter Island Part One: The Novel

  1. John Greco says:

    David – Like you, I am highly anticipating the release of “Shutter Island.” For me a Scorsese film is always a reason to celebrate. I have heard various reasons for the delay, some not flattering, though it is hard to believe MS could make a bad film.

    Granted the book’s ending was a bit predictable, but it is a good read. I still have catch up on some of Lehane’s other works. Thanks for the mention.

    John, I also find it hard to believe MS could craft something subpar. It looks like he and DiCaprio set out to have a lot of “fun” with this material. –DHS

  2. DeeDee says:

    Hi! D.H.Schleicher,
    D.H., I was not familiar with author Dennis Lehane, until I seen him in this photograph carousing with authors Eddie Muller, Ken Bruen, Harlen Coben,James Crumley, Peter Robinson and Laura Lippman at Boucheron.
    [Go over 5 spaces and then down to the 4th row on your right and then click on the picture it will pop out in a new window.]
    Eddie Muller Scrapbook

    You know I was recently, promoting two authors’ (Eric Beetner and J.B.Kohl) book “One Too Many Blows to the Head,” on my blog.

    Well, one of the authors’ name J.B.Kohl, mentioned in our interview that author Dennis Lehane, was one of her favorite author(s) which sent Ms.Curious (That would be me…) on a quest to find as much information about him as possible and this is what I discovered about him…
    Author Dennis Lehane Books

    Everything That You Wanted To Know About Author Dennis Lehane…

    By the way, instead of, you had me at…hello!
    You lost me after I read this…good-bye!

    D.H.Schleicher said, “NOTE TO READERS: I am about to talk about a big spoiler without actually revealing the big spoiler, so read with caution.”

    D.H.Schleicher said, “It takes a special kind of writer to be able to pull off expository dialogue without revealing the cards, and Lehane maintains a killer poker face while holding a straight flush in this regard. There is dark humor and grit to be found here, and these are the classic hallmarks of a great mystery writer…”
    Wow, thanks, for the information about author Dennis Lehane’s writing style too.
    Thanks, for sharing!
    Take Care!
    DeeDee 😉

    DeeDee, I would suspect you would probably like Lehane. –DHS

  3. ccyager says:

    Hi, David,

    I had exactly the same reaction to this novel as you did, except my disappointment was quite sharp. The first half is so beautifully done, it deserved something far more original for a “big twist.” Lehane is capable of it, too — some of his short stories are amazing in their originality.

    So, I’m not really looking forward so much to the movie….

    Cinda, if it wasn’t Scorsese, I would not be looking forward to the movie either. –DHS

  4. DeeDee says:

    Bad News…
    D.H.Schleicher said, “My initial fear with reading Shutter Island was that it would take any element of surprise away from viewing the upcoming film. Unfortunately, the book took away its own element of surprise with its predictable “big twist”.
    Good News…
    That being said, Lehane still crafted a most entertaining read, and this type of material in the hands of a director like Scorsese and an actor like DiCaprio should be a blast to watch.”

    Hi! D.H.,
    As you can see…I have returned in order to read your
    last paragraph and I can see that you decided to use the “good” news “bad” news approach…Therefore, I plan to watch the film (Shutter Island) first and then read the book.
    Thanks, a lot!
    DeeDee

    DeeDee, aye, ’tis one of my notorious “mixed” reviews…argh. Sounds like a good game plan. –DHS

  5. Sam Juliano says:

    It is simply incredible how you and John Greco are able to add reading to the mix, as both of you are split in so many directions! But I tip my cfap to you both, and to you Dave for this advance look at SHUTTER ISLAND by way of the original source material. And yes, it’s as “mixed” as they come, something I suspect will also inform the film, which was delayed in large measure to trepidation of failure. But Mr. Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER made for an impressive film (which to these eyes was -with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA-the two best Eastwoods of his late-life prolific run) But yes, Lehane dosen’t downplay the “predictable.” That was the main flaw with MYSTIC RIVER too.

    Sam, I thought GONE BABY GONE (the film) was deliciously unpredictable (especially in that final act)…but, yes, Lehane does seem to get caught up in those “big twists”. I love the inherent dark, twisted nature of his material, though. I totally agree with you on the Eastwood assessment. –DHS

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