The Painted Bridge is the debut novel by Wendy Wallace, a British freelance journalist and a writer. In this review, I just discussed about this book. When I read the novel, I cried and not because it was a bad fiction book, but because it was a poignant masterpiece. Set in the age of Queen Victoria, this historical novel depicts the female condition in London during the XIX century.
That is the same condition described by Virginia Wolf in her essay titled A Room of One’s Own, only that here, in the tale by Wendy Wallace titled The Painted Bridge, the female condition has been turned into an outstanding and touching novel. I remained really struck by this story.
The book tells about a woman, Anna, who is a free woman, she in not accustomed to ask for the permission before venturing into a new undertaking, such as the one to rescue a group of sailors from a shipwreck. To save them, she leaves her husband, Vincent, alone, for a few days. But when she returns, she finds a cruel and unexpected surprise: Vincent ordered that Anna is locked in a mental hospital for frail women.
As of that day, Anna will suffer the worst revenge of her life, along with the abusive treatments of the doctors to heal mental illnesses in women. She does not suffer inappropriate medical treatments, but real tortures, which, in all of their cruelty, cast a sharp and impressive light on the condition of women in the century of Queen Victoria.
The poignant contrast in the story is masterfully crafted with the role of Vincent. The latter is a much respected priest, a cleric who is interested only in saving the appearances of his Congregation, while his wife practices the true Charity and love for others. As a matter of fact, Vincent married Anna for a deception.
You’ll discover it by reading the novel. Anna, in turn, lives all the despair and loneliness of a sane woman who must prove to not be crazy, but how hard it is to prove this when you are interned in a private hospital that receives money from the man who locked you there! This is just the condition of Anna.
She tries to escape, but Lake House, the mental hospital, is separated from the world by an unsafe painted bridge. It is not easy escaping, above all from the claws of Fanny Makepeace, a former patient who, in order to survive, took on the role of jailer, as well as it is hard to escape the evil soul of the owner of the asylum, Querios Abse.
Around Anna Palmer, there are other figures, Lucas St Clair, a young psychiatrist who wants to diagnose mental illnesses by taking photos of the faces of patients, and then, there is Martha Lovely, one of the companions who seem to want to help Anna.
Through the gaze of the characters, where good and evil fight between them, I read and saw all of the ugliness of the human nature and the greed for money, a sin which pushes even to lock a sane woman to a madhouse. But Anna is only a freedom lover. Freedom is her unique fault, an unforgivable fault in the age of Queen Victoria! The Painted Bridge, with its gripping narration, also deepens the matter of the still unfulfilled gender equality.
Through the various chapters and the dialogues, I saw all the inner worlds of a great and clever woman turned into a patient for revenge. Her tears were my tears; her loneliness was my same loneliness. Wendy Wallace was great to describe the courage of a strong woman against a clan of unjust and wicked figures.
That is a great outcome for a debut novel, a great tale, really, that you must absolutely read. As said above, I cried when I read The Painted Bridge and when a book makes me cry, it does not mean that is a bad book: it means that is a masterpiece.
Title: The Painted Bridge
Author: Wendy Wallace
Available on Amazon.