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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first novel
The Painted Bridge begins in London, in the winter of 1859. Anna Palmer is tricked by her husband and incarcerated in a private asylum called Lake House. As she sets out to prove her sanity, she gradually gets to know the other inmates and to form bonds with women she would never normally have mixed with. Time passes, and she grows to like and respect these women, relying...
Published on 11 May 2012 by J Corbin

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Am I Reading The Same Book?
I am wondering if I'm reading the same book as all the other reviewers! I'm just over half way through and about to give up. Sorry but this book - and particularly the main character - just isn't engaging me. The characters are flat and there's not enough tension to keep me turning the page. If you want to read something on a similar theme but about a hundred times...
Published 23 months ago by Hellymart


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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first novel, 11 May 2012
By 
J Corbin - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Paperback)
The Painted Bridge begins in London, in the winter of 1859. Anna Palmer is tricked by her husband and incarcerated in a private asylum called Lake House. As she sets out to prove her sanity, she gradually gets to know the other inmates and to form bonds with women she would never normally have mixed with. Time passes, and she grows to like and respect these women, relying on their fortitude as a mirror for her own.
For me, story telling is all about the suspension of disbelief. I want to lose myself in a story. I want to see what the characters see, feel what they feel, be worried for them and hope for them. The Painted Bridge achieved this for me. Wallace's writing is intelligent and lyrical. She skilfully weaves historical detail throughout the narrative but the story is never bogged down by too much information. The characters take centre stage, most especially Anna, a young woman with a strong will and a keen sense of what's right and fair. Anna hopes to find an ally in Lucas St Clair, a visiting physician who believes that the new medium of photography may reveal the state of a patient's mind. As he says, `photography is the art of truth not of advertisement', and Anna hopes he will see her for who she is - a woman perfectly in control of her sanity who has been wronged by her husband.
But as the story unfolds, the intrigue deepens and Anna begins to discover her own truth, to understand her dreams and unveil her visions. She also learns the truth about the man she married, her husband Vincent, an odious character who acts out of self-interest and arrogance.
The Painted Bridge is a great read. It reminded me of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters - a plot that grips, vibrant characters and a sense of place that evokes London as both grimy and idyllic, imprisoning and freeing, depending on circumstance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric and emotional, 21 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
Effortlessly shot through with impressive research, The Painted Bridge is a beautifully written portrait of a time when women were locked away for not toeing the line.
The author's stylish prose drew me in from the start and as the story unfolded , I became immersed in the sense of imprisonment and disempowerment which must have experienced by women similar to the central character, Anna, in the 1850s.
I felt it was about how we may - even today - not necessarily have control over how we are perceived and how others treat us, that circumstance, as well as era, can choose to give a Reverend respect yet a strong woman like Anna is so easily dismissed as barmy, also how women can help as well as hurt each other.
Nothing is spelt out, and there's every reason to read on, one of those books where the reader feels they've played a part filling in between the lines instead of having everything spelt out. Satisfying, educational and emotional. Strongly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Painted Bridge., 4 July 2012
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
A superb first novel. Some novels are all plot but lack character development other are the opposite. This novel has everything a good book should have. A page turner of a plot, well researched and believable. Engaging characters who one comes to care about, who you know had a life before the novel and are left wondering how they will live on after. The novel has a fantastic sense of time and place. The dialogue flows naturally through the narrative. I finished it at 4.00am!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Am I Reading The Same Book?, 14 Jun. 2013
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Paperback)
I am wondering if I'm reading the same book as all the other reviewers! I'm just over half way through and about to give up. Sorry but this book - and particularly the main character - just isn't engaging me. The characters are flat and there's not enough tension to keep me turning the page. If you want to read something on a similar theme but about a hundred times better, read 'Fingersmith' by Sarah Waters. You won't be able to put it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be wary if you're taken visiting whilst reading this, 17 May 2013
By 
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Paperback)
Having recently read and enjoyed Blue Asylum I was interested to see how this book compared. At first appearing very similar - both set in the 19th century, both with heroines who have been placed in asylums by their husbands, and both featuring a natural longing to escape. Yet they are both extremely different stories with unique characters and a completely different feel to them.

In the painted bridge we meet Anna, recently married, taken on an outing to "visit friends" by her older, well respected, religious husband, who discovers to her horror that he has brought her not to a warm family home but to a run down mansion used as an asylum for women where he abandons her, having convinced the medical profession (with little more than a willingness to pay the fees) that she is mad and hysterical, and the more she protests her sanity, the more it makes her seem to fit the bill of hysteric.

She reluctantly accepts her fate and begins to mix with the other inmates, whilst undergoing some truly terrible "treatments" evident to us as torture.

A regular visitor to Lake House asylum is a physician - Lucas St Clair, who is experimenting with the new medium of photography to try and reveal the womens states of mind from the traits and expressions revealed in photographs. Drawn to Anna he seizes the chance to photograph her, hoping he may discover her innocence, yet fearing he may reveal further madnesses.

As Anna gets to know the other madwomen locked alongside her she discovers truths about her own background and learns about what almost all the women have in common - husbands or families who want them locked away for varying reasons. She meets and befriends Catherine, the Asylum Manager's fragile daughter whom she hopes may help her effect an escape, which she plans, whilst gazing at the pretty painted bridge in the houses grounds.

The characters are beautifully written, especially the women, you can't help but empathise with their plights. The story is subtle yet demanding, I just couldn't put it down once I'd started it.

If you enjoy well researched historical fiction set in the Victorian era and like strong, believeable heroines with plenty of character you'll love the Painted Bridge, and maybe you'll never feel quite as comfortable again, being taken to visit friends of your husband in the countryside! Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and important historical novel, 13 Nov. 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
It is 1859 when Anna Palmer is cruelly incarcerated against her will by her husband Vincent in a Victorian asylum near London named Lake House. This private asylum houses genteel women supposedly needing a rest and a cure, those who have delicate sensibilities. Having realised what has happened to her, and what Lake House actually is, Anna immediately sets about trying to prove there is nothing wrong with her and that she doesn't belong there and should be allowed to leave immediately. She appeals unsuccessfully to her uncaring husband to let her return home.

Lucas St Clair is a physician working at the asylum, employing the very new medium of photography in his work with the patients, believing that it may perhaps be used to shed light on the health of their minds.

Anna is subject to cruel treatments in the asylum that were common in those days, supposedly in the name of a cure. Initially she wants little to do with the other residents, but slowly she lets her guard down and finds more in common with some of them than she first expected. Alongside some companionship with the owner's daughter, and her meetings with Lucas St Clair, they are of course the only people who can help reduce her feelings of isolation and from whom she can gain strength and solidarity.

I was gripped by the storyline right from the start. I felt sad at the helpless situation Anna found herself in, and angry at the ease with which she was locked away there by her husband. The author highlights the cruelties and injustices of the system and of society prevalent in those times, leaving women with little or no say in their own destiny, and locked away for feeling low or anxious, or just not behaving as expected. The writer caused me to care about Anna and share her feeling of being trapped, and I was willing her to find an escape somehow.

I loved the author's use of language, and the names she created for some of the characters at Lake House struck me as perfect.

There is beautiful and convincing period detail throughout this intelligent, perceptive historical novel, and the author has evidently researched her topics well, but is never heavy handed with the details. I found it particularly interesting to read about this early use of photography, the processes involved, and this theory that it may enlighten a doctor as to the mental health of patients. Will Anna be able to prove her sanity? What is the truth about her past, and her husband? The lines between truth, reality and fact become blurred until we are unsure quite what to believe at times.

The hardback edition of this novel has beautiful endpapers which complement it very well.

This is a fascinating, emotional and compelling debut novel with engaging characters and a strong storyline throughout. This is a book that I would definitely read a second time. I am really looking forward to reading the next novel by this author.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and researched, 11 July 2012
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What a brilliantly written and well researched book. It reminded me very much of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but most certainly came into it's own thanks to the strong main character of Anna Palmer.

Anna has been committed to Lake House, a place of rest for genteel ladies by her thoroughly unpleasant husband Vincent, a vicar who is hiding his cold and despicable personality behind his dog collar. Powerless to do anything when she realises Lake House is an asylum in disguise, Anna searches for ways to escape, but this comes with dragging days in which she feels completely isolated from the world apart from her wiry attendant Martha Lovely and the other lady inmates. The question is of course - are they really mad or has Lake House made them that way.

A very good first book with the plot and characters nicely portrayed, all in all an excellent read for those interested in Victorian fiction.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Victorian story for the head and the heart, 27 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
A beautiful cover, lovely endpapers, a few well-chosen words from Emily Dickinson, and then a striking opening scene.

A woman was suspended, upside-down, and a young man was taking her photograph. He was a doctor, and his hypothesis was that the picture he took of her face would reveal the secrets within her mind.

It's not just striking, it's very clever and its beautifully executed. My expectations were cleverly shifted and questions about what was really happening filled my head. I was entranced.

A carriage pulled up outside. Mrs Anna Palmer, the young wife of an elderly clergyman arrived. She thought she had come to meet friends of her husband, but she was wrong. She had been very cleverly tricked, and she found herself incarcerated in Lake House, a private asylum for gentlewomen.

First she was astonished and then she was outraged. But she was utterly trapped. By the power of a cruel husband, by the strictures of Victorian society, and by her own nature.

Anna had spirit, she had a calling, but she found that to be taken as proof of madness. I must confess that I had doubts, I questioned her sanity. The line between vocation and obsession, sanity and insanity, can be so very fine...

But I cared. I knew that Anna did not belong at Lake House. I wondered how important sanity was, and indeed what it was.

Anna found friends. Dr St Clair was young and idealistic. Talitha Blatt seemed as same as Anna. Catherine Abse was a bright young woman. But one was an employee, one was an inmate. one was the daughter of the house. All constrained in different ways. They could give some help, some support, but the could not give Anna her freedom.

She had to do that for herself, but the more she struggled the more she was punished.

There are aspects of the story that are harrowing, but there are also aspects that are uplifting, aspects that are thought-provoking for so many other reasons.

Above all, Anna was an intriguing character and I had to find out what would become of her.

I wanted to know the stories of others too. So many diverse, wonderful characters. So many stories that might have been told. What had happened to them, before and after their lives and Anna's crossed paths?

But this is Anna's story. Quite rightly.

A wonderful story, rich in detail, touching on the history of medical science, the evolution of photography, the constraints society can place upon women, and the evil that men may do, both knowingly and unknowingly, to serve their own interests.

It's told in beautiful, clear, literate prose. With perfectly judged suspense And with truths slowly becoming transparent.

I was held, my head and my heart, from the first word to the last.

The conclusion was stunning, unexpected, and exactly right.

Anna's story, and the things it showed me, will stay with me for a very long time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The five stars are for the story. A big raspberry for the editing!! ..., 15 April 2013
By 
Phil (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
How to start?! It seems to me that Wendy Wallace is a writer with a Jekyll and Hyde identity: a master at using language to describe and to emote, but capable of shockingly flawed logic, and with major issues over clarity of expression. (Her sentence construction is often confusing, not helped by a truly woeful grasp of punctuation.) As a journalist, working to tight deadlines, she possibly hasn't the time to check her copy carefully before submission, but you shouldn't get away with that in novel-writing. She clearly thinks she can, though, having submitted a manuscript littered with typos, errors of logic, and technical clumsiness. Reading this novel was therefore a strange experience: I was utterly engrossed by the story, but irritated almost beyond endurance by the most flawed text I've ever read (and the worst case of editorial negligence). I only kept going because the story was so good.

(Warning: The next paragraph contains spoilers.)
The worst of all the errors of logic concerns the central element of the plot: Anna's plan to escape the asylum by crossing the nearby lake. Now, I don't know how Wallace visualised this, but it didn't make sense to me. Why does Anna have to cross this lake, rather than just walk around its perimeter?! We know that it's a small body of water, and there has been no suggestion that the perimeter is cut off both to left and right. (How could it be, in any case? There would have to be a continuous enclosure, from the walls of the asylum right around to the water's edge on either side of the lake!) The poor visualisation continues when, later on, the painted bridge of the novel's title is found to be an illusion. Whilst this ties in neatly with one of the novel's themes - that appearances can be deceptive - Anna's mis-perception from her window in the asylum, as well as the reality of what faces her at the lakeside, stretches credibility to breaking point.

It's a shame about these flaws, because in other respects this is a first-rate debut novel. It's well-researched, with interesting themes: the various manifestations of imprisonment, for example, and the control of Victorian women's lives by their menfolk (Anna's cold, misogynistic vicar-husband is a glorious stage villain!) Set mostly within the claustrophobic context of an asylum, Wallace keeps it fresh by changing the scene with every chapter, and shifting between the various well-drawn and fascinating characters and their concerns. Her descriptions and metaphors are just wonderful. So much happens, but the pacing is perfect, and all the various strands to the story and its conundrums (such as Anna's obsession with the drowned) are satisfyingly resolved in the dramatic concluding chapters. I'm glad I battled through the issues with the text, because it moved and entertained me greatly.

Wendy Wallace is clearly a writer to watch. I just hope that when she next prepares a manuscript for her publisher, she shows more respect for her readers, by trying harder to resolve its problems (because her disgraceful publishers, Simon and Schuster, won't do it for her.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sinister and fascinating Victorian tale, 14 Nov. 2012
By 
Curiosity Killed The Bookworm (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Painted Bridge (Hardcover)
Anna Palmer believes she is merely visiting friends of her husband when she arrives at Lake House. Instead, she is left behind, shepherded into a room and locked away. Her husband, Vincent, has had her committed although the patrons cushion the words by calling it a retreat for ladies. A retreat where the guests can't leave. Whilst Mr Abse had no doubt that Anna is suffering from hysteria, Dr Lucas St. Clair is using the new technology of photography to find the truth in his patients' faces. Can Anna trust him to help her or is she destined to be unjustly imprisoned forever?

Anna's fate may seem scary but it was a common one in Victorian England. The forced normalcy of life at Lake House is quite sinister when you think the ladies can't leave and the majority of them are quite sane. Abse might come across as a well-meaning bureaucrat, who has taken on too much, but the character of Makepeace, the omnipresent matron, is the one who really sets the atmosphere on edge.

My interest in photography meant I loved St. Clair's role in the story. I had never heard of its use to diagnose mental illnesses before, though of course, nowadays we know it's not that simple. But St. Clair very much wants to prove his theory but he is a much more compassionate character with an open mind. I loved the little period details of the actual processes involved and how easy it was to ruin things!

I would question why Wendy made Anna suffer from visions. Without them there would have been a wonderful contrast between the sane woman locked away in the asylum just because her husband wanted rid of her and the young woman who would actually receive psychiatric help in modern times but does not have her condition acknowledged. Even though the visions are explained eventually, it makes Vincent's actions seem justified by Victorian standards; I would worry about anyone having hallucinations. However her mental state and actions do come across as someone in their right mind who does not deserve to be where she is.

I would recommend The Painted Bridge to anyone who loves stories set in the Victorian era and it's a worthwhile read for those with an interest in the history of photography.

Review copy provided by publisher.
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The Painted Bridge
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace (Hardcover - 24 May 2012)
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