The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

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The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley
Reviewed by Madeline Wheatley
Summary: Married women in Victorian England were their husband’s property. The Painted Bridge examines one of the ways that a husband who was unhappy with his wife’s behaviour could deal with the problem. Commit her to an asylum.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 386 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857209276

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Young bride Anna Palmer places her trust in all the wrong people. One choice that backfires spectacularly is her impulsive marriage to the Reverend Vincent Palmer. Less than a year after their marriage he tells her that they are going to visit some of his friends at a place called Lake House. But Lake House is a privately run asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. Once there Anna discovers that she is not allowed to leave without Vincent's approval.

The Painted Bridge tells the story of the inmates of Lake House. Attitudes were changing, but women considered to have mental health problems could still experience barbaric treatment in this period. Lake House uses purges, high pressure cold showers and rotational therapy to name but a few. Not surprisingly, there is a very low rate of recovery among its patients.

Much of what Anna thinks about the place and its inhabitants turns out to be as illusory as the painted bridge itself, which is an ornamental façade rather than a solid structure. There is more than a touch of melodrama in the telling of this tale, though it is not simply a case of good inmates versus evil imprisoners. The staff and the family that own Lake House are rounded characters rather than the villains of the piece. The splendidly named Querios Abse, who owns the asylum, is a harried father and business man: preoccupied and ignorant rather than wicked.

Alongside all their trials and troubles, the women of Lake House are being photographed as part of a research experiment into the causes of mental illness. Wallace's writing is particularly effective on the developing art of photography. The delicate, time consuming process is vividly described and the protracted action of taking a photograph marks both the opening and closing pages of the book. The use of the images adds another layer to the theme of deceptive appearances that flows through the story.

The elaborate twists and turns of the plot occasionally feel contrived, but keep the book moving at a fast pace to a satisfying conclusion. The Painted Bridge would be a good read for a book group as it offers lots of scope for discussion.

Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals you might also like Wildthorn by Jane Eagland or for a historical account of the treatment of mental health, try Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold.

Buy The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace at

Buy The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace at


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