Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

ShutterIslandI guess it might sound strange but I read this novel (back in 2011) because one night I dreamed that I was reading this novel (and another one by Dennis Lehane, Sacred). Of course I had been aware of the existence of Lehane’s novels when I dreamed about them, but I hadn’t planned to read them. But then I thought, why not – it doesn’t happen everyday that I dream about unread novels. Anyway, I must add that – strange dream or not – Shutter Island didn’t change my life and Lehane didn’t immediately become my all-time favorite author – but I didn’t regret having spent a couple of hours with this book, either.

And this is something to say, because Shutter Island is basically a huge bundle of clichés: the tough-but-broken-hearted cop (who hadn’t been able to accept the death of his wife) and his young-and-inexperienced sidekick arrive at an ominous prison island which specializes in the treatment and detention of criminals with a mental illness. The cops arrive to solve a strange case: a convict had mysteriously disappeared without a trace – which is not a small feat in such a well-defended detention center. However, the tough cop isn’t only interested in unveiling the mystery – he also wants to take revenge for the death of his wife. But then a raging hurricane cuts the island off from the mainland, and along with the increasing sense of claustrophobia, panic and paranoia also set in; and after a while it appears that in fact nothing is what it seems.

Typing the previous paragraph was almost painful for me because of the banality of every single plot element. Each character, each setting, each event reminded me of characters, settings, plot details from other crime novels / thrillers, even though I’m not a huge fan of these genres. What is surprising, though, is that Shutter Island isn’t a bad book by any means: Lehane managed to contrive a strangely unnerving and frightening story out of all these clichés, and the oppressive atmosphere he created in the novel is unique. What’s more, Shutter Island is well-written, exciting, fast-paced and sometimes even funny – still, its most outstanding feature is that it’s not outstanding at all.

It may not sound much, but the best I can say about this novel is that there’s nothing I could criticize it for. It’s exactly what I would expect from a contemporary crime novel: Lehane’s writing is easy and amusing, the story is clever and man-scaled, and there are no redundant or irrelevant elements in it. Of course, I didn’t expect a cathartic experience, and I didn’t get one either, but – even though I’m secretly waiting for catharsis to happen in every single book I read – that’s okay, I guess.

All in all, Shutter Island is a good and entertaining novel: it’s not shallow, it makes your brain work, it’s pleasantly dark and ambiguous, but it’s also a fast and easy read.

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