surrounded by an autumn storm, I’ve decidedto talk about a book that could be the symbol of the psychological thriller, a novel that holds on its toes, confuses, puts anxiety and fear such as “and if it happened to me?” but at the same time reassures for the remote era in which it is set, for the distance with the reality “it would never happen to me”.

You must probably know the movie that was made out of it, but I promise that reading the book, while  sitting on the armchair, is much worth I’m talking about “Shutter Island”[1], by Dennis Lehane, edited in Italy with the ambiguous name of “The island of fear”, ambiguous because with this title, I would have expected a classic horror. Instead, it is a captivating psychological thriller, 345 pages of novel, set on Shutter Island as revelead by the title, a mysterious island reachable just by a ferryboat that doesn’t even have precise schedules. A former prison, now home to a criminal psychiatric sanatorium.

Actually, thinking about it, the island is quite frightening!


The differences between the original and the Scorsese film remake are evident since the very beginning: In the book, in fact, starting from the prologue it is immediately clear who is the real protagonist of the story, not the doctor who writes the diary, not Teddy whom we will meet in the first chapter, but the island !!! As if it were an entity, a creature that lives its own life, the island is effectively rendered since the beginning, with disturbing and vivid brushstrokes. And throughout all the narrative, we will find this style, this devotion to the island, almost more than towards the characters who trample and visit it. It is divided into three large complexes (A, B and C – female, male, dangerous criminals), a living area for staff and the lighthouse.

<<We take only the most dangerous, damaged patients. Ones no other hospital can manage, and it’s all due to Dr. Cawley. He’s created something real unique here.>>[2]


Officially, the criminal sanatorium simply hosts those criminals who are considered not entirely cognisant of their actions or so dangerous that they can’t be kept with common convicts.

Unofficially, it is an institution where experiments on patients are conducted. Mind manipulation experiments.
Induction of false memories.
Role plays as therapy.


This involuntary parallelism with LOST was the final push that convinced me to start this reading on a rainy, cloudy and very gray autumn night.

The night is definitely the best time to enjoy this thriller, and if you are alone at home even better.


“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?”[3]


After the prologue, the description moves to 1931 and tells us about the little Teddy and his first boat trip, explaining in a few words why he hates the sea and sailing and why, even if he is a federal agent with a reputation for being hard and incorruptible, feared from colleagues and enemies, on the ferryboat that in 1954 – the year of the main plot – takes him and his new colleague Chuck to Shutter Island, he spends all the transfer into the bathroom to throw up

A few pages and we are under the impression to know Teddy Daniels very well.
We will soon find out that actually we don’t’!!!


Shutter Island turns out to be an inhospitable island just off the coast of Boston, in which a psychiatric institution, Ashecliffe, has been placed, housed in the pavilions of an abandoned fortress, destined to house particularly serious and dangerous patients, if not irrecoverable.
The agent of the FBI Teddy Daniels arrives on the island with the agent Chuck Aule, a new colleague, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Solando, a woman interned for killing her three children. The woman seems to have vanished from her room despite being locked from the outside. While visiting Rachel’s room, Teddy and Chuck discover a code that Teddy believes leads to a 67th patient, but the hospital claims to have admitted only 66 patients.
tumblr_mh900e9zag1r8t81wo1_500Teddy, once on the island, begins to suffer from frequent and painful headaches that emphasise his innate phobia for the sea and that bring to mind painful events of his recent past: the horrors of the world war, the liberation of a German concentration camp and above all the tragic loss of his wife Dolores, who was the victim of an arson attack. The novel is sprinkled with very detailed descriptions of the Second World War and of Dachauche, the concentration camp that Teddy helped to free, bringing the reader to notice the similarities with the psychiatric hospital and its systems of treatment.


“This world can only give me reminders of what I don’t have, can never have, didn’t have for long enough.”[4]

Daniels and Aule also have a second, unofficial and secret purpose: to confirm and report on the therapeutic methods used bythe hospital, where there are concernsthat human beings area used as guinea pigs and subject to extreme experimental therapies,  supported by  the secret services. This is why many buildings remain inaccessible and Dr. Naering, a reference therapist in the hospital, denies the agents from examining medical records, thus delaying a valuable line of investigation; even more suspicious is the fact that the main suspect who favoured the disappearance of the missing woman, the psychiatrist who had treated her, left the island just before the arrival of the investigators thus prohibitinghis questioning.


Usually I do not dwell much on sharing the plot, but this book was so stunning and and intriguing  that I felt this need.

For once I must also admit that the movie with Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo is absolutely gorgeous and almost completely faithful (although curiously with a different ending!) and I could even decide to absolve those who  take the shortcut[5].



“I’ve built something valuable here. But valuable things also have a way of being misunderstood in their own time. Everyone wants a quick fix. We’re tired of being afraid, tired of being sad, tired of feeling overwhelmed, tired of feeling tired. We want the old day back, and we don’t even remember them, and we want to push into the future, paradoxically, at top speed. Patience and forbearance become the first casualties of progress.”[6]


But for the paper  (or the e-book) addicted, I recommend you make a hot chocolate with spices, a worthy soundtrack * and let yourself be carried away by a lot of suspense and twists….


Enjoy the reading!




[1] “Shutter Island” could soon become a TV series. The film’s director himself, Martin Scorsese, is working with HBO and Paramount Television, being a long-time contributor to the cable network.
According to Deadline, the project, entitled “Ashecliffe”, intends to deepen the history of the mental health institute in which the events of book and film take place. Dennis Lehane would be in charge of the script for the pilot, of which Scorsese will be the director and executive producer.
A publication date has not yet been announced.
[2] From the movie.
[3] From the novel.
[4] From the novel.
[5] A curiosity of the film is that the building used for shooting is really a former psychiatric hospital! The Medfield State Hospital in Massachusetts, built from 1892 until its completion and opened in 1896. Medfield is crossed by over 900 hectares and in its golden age had 58 functioning buildings with a patient count of over 2,200. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
[6] From the novel.