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Review: The Painted Bridge, Wendy Wallace

the painted bridgeAfter less than a year of marriage, Anna’s rigid clerical husband decides that she isn’t a suitable wife for him, and has her committed to a mental institution. She’s perfectly sane, but that doesn’t matter to anyone – not to the fake doctors whose signatures let him commit her to the hospital, not to the employees, not to the real doctors in the hospital, and certainly not to her husband. Anna is determined to escape, but she has no idea how, until she meets Lucas St. Clair. St. Clair is a young doctor who is attempting to use photography to discern the true nature of patients’ souls. Will his pictures show Anna as the innocent she is or the madwoman everyone believes?

I have to start off this review by saying I didn’t really manage to connect with this book. There were plenty of interesting elements, but they never combined for me into something that I genuinely liked much. It sounds like such an interesting premise; although we know that pictures aren’t really the key to the soul, when photography was a new art, people weren’t really sure what its purpose was. The idea that a doctor would try and use it to diagnose mental patients sounded very interesting to me. Moreover, the idea of an innocent woman condemned to one of these mental hospitals held a certain amount of appeal, even though I already knew that Anna’s life was going to be terrible once she was committed.

The main problem, unfortunately, was that I didn’t really connect with Anna at all. The reason that she’s deemed unsuitable by her husband is because she went to the seaside on her own to try and give aid to some shipwrecked sailors. To be perfectly honest, this does seem like a strange thing for a young woman in Victorian England to do without telling her husband. She even sells some of his things to get money for the sailors and proceeds to stay in an inn on her own without any supervision. Her behavior by no means justified the punishment, but she seemed foolish and naive, which made it hard for me to like her. I often say that I don’t really need to like a character to enjoy a book, but a lot of this story hinges on feeling sympathy for Anna, and it’s not really a complex character study that might justify her strange behavior. There is a reason for it, but not until the end of the book, and not quite earth-shattering even then.

While I didn’t fall in love with it overall, there were certain elements that I did like. One was the different ways that the women were constrained – maybe not appropriate to say I liked it, but it showed the limitations of a woman’s role once a man was in control at the time. The asylum is run by a man with a wife and teenage daughter, and both the wife and daughter are constrained because of what the men in their lives do. The other “patients” are obviously prisoners and generally with little wrong with them. Even the female employees in the institution have no control over their lives, and the one who does seize control comes to an unfortunate end. Anna’s own imprisonment is just one way that a Victorian woman could be trapped by the men around her.

With some interesting ideas, The Painted Bridge could have been an excellent book. For a different reader, it could be an exceptional read. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for this one.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

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5 comments to Review: The Painted Bridge, Wendy Wallace

  • The idea that he could have her committed like that is awfully scary, but I know it happened back then. Sorry you didn’t connect with the character.
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last post …Giveaway: Admission prize pack

  • I have read stories where the main character is committed for things like “being hysterical”, when she was only crying, or just generally not falling into line when her husband wants control of her and her actions. It is a scary thing indeed. I might not read this book, but you have got me thinking about books that have the same underlying sentiments.
    zibilee´s last post …Romancing Olive by Holly Bush

  • This book sounds like it has some very interesting concepts. I can’t even imagine living back then! It’s too bad Anna wasn’t a more relatable character, but I am glad you got something out of it even if it was disappointing.
    Literary Feline´s last post …Happy Birthday, Mouse!

  • Sounds like this book has an interesting premise. Shame you didn’t end up loving it. I agree though it can be hard to enjoy a book when you don’t particularly like the main character, especially when the story hinges on you sympathising with them.
    jessicabookworm´s last post …New Read: Ferney

  • A pity about the background of the story (it does sound odd for a Victorian woman to want to do that, but then again it’s surely generous and kind… just they wouldn’t have seen it that way then). It sounds a good book for history, if harrowing.
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