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Monday, November 10, 2008

Bedlam South

Bedlam South
by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson

From the website:
Set in the heart of the Confederacy, Bedlam South is the story of ordinary people who fought and suffered, and loved and lost during the [American] Civil War. Authors Mark Grisham and David Donaldson weave a rich tapestry colored with tales of tragedy, romance, and redemption.
Some of the proceeds from this novel go to the charitable organization Impact Missions. Scroll to the very bottom of the post for more info on this.

*** The Plot ***

This book follows the lives of several characters during the Civil War (approx. 1860-1865). Dr. Bryarly is an American doctor working in the notorious Bedlam Insane Asylum in England; at the start of the novel he is called back to the US to run a Confederate asylum in Virgina. There is the Dougall family, immigrants from Ireland who meet the doctor on the Atlantic crossing. Billy and Zeke are brothers from Mississippi fighting in General Lee's Confederate Army. And there's also Mary Beth, a high-class prostitute working in Virginia.

*** The Pros ***
  • I learned quite a few things from this book, such as ...
  • I didn't realize that immigration to America from Ireland (and other places) continued throughout the Civil War. For the immigrants who knew very little about the two sides of the conflict, their port of call often determined their allegiance.
  • The original name for what we know today as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome was "A Soldier's Heart" ... I wonder if that has anything to do with this other book.
  • I was reminded of the horrible standards of acceptability in insane asylums during this time period. It is so contrary to what the word "asylum" actually means.
  • There was a mystery in the doctor's past, something having to do with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, that kept me wanting to read on - I just HAD to find out the truth.
  • I totally did not see the plot twist near the end - wow, was I shocked!
*** The Cons ***
  • There were too many topics for such a short book. I felt like the authors were trying to cram the battle history of the Civil War, advances in the field of mental health, and all the relatively unknown but still important events/people/etc. in the South and give me an education on all of them.
  • The portions of the story dealing with Billy and Zeke in the army seemed to be there mostly to give the authors the opportunity to tell the reader what was going on in the war. Most conversations didn't feel natural. One character would ask a question and another would reply in a way that was more exposition than conversation.
  • Cliche, cliche, cliche. I didn't see anything very original in this book, other than the character of Dr. Bryarly and his experiences.
  • I wasn't a big fan of the writing style. In fact, this quote from page 80 almost made be put the book down for good:
    I heard tell that he was pinned under a piece of artillery that burst into flames, and that's how he got his scars. Now he lives in fear of fire - watch and you'll see he stays far away from any fireplace. Instead he uses whores to keep him warm.
    Really?! Honestly, I laughed out loud at that line ... I just couldn't get past it.
  • The endings were tied up too neatly and too quickly. In all but one case, the authors handed me the solution to each problem/mystery/etc. in about a paragraph a piece.
  • Knowing that I was reading an Advance Reader Copy of this book I expected to find some errors, but there were a LOT of errors - enough to be really annoying. This book needs some serious editing before it is published.
*** My Conclusion ***

I had such high hopes for this book. I've been looking forward to reading it since August and the anticipation has been delicious. Alas I was disappointed, for all the reasons listed above. Also, I couldn't get attached to any of the characters except Dr. Bryarly. In fact, had I not promised to review it I would have quit reading before I got halfway through.

I really hate to give a negative review to a book I received from a author, publisher, or marketing group. It's likely that the author will read the review and I don't want to be mean or hurtful in any way. But at the same time the purpose of my blog is to review absolutely everything I read in an honest manner, so there you have it.

On the other hand, I encourage you to give this book a try because a significant portion of the proceeds go toward Impact Missions, a faith-based ministry dedicated to providing Christ-centered care to abused children, hurting families and impoverished people. Co-author Donaldson is affiliated with this organization.

Who knows? Maybe you'll love this book. I've been known to disagree with the majority before (Midnight's Children anyone?) ...


Anonymous said...

Aww, c'mon, the whore quote is precious! I think I'll skip this one. Thanks, my dear!

Anonymous said...

I like the way you set up this review, with snapshots of pros and cons.

The Bookworm said...

I know exactly what you mean about hating to give a negative review to a book from a author, publisher, or marketing group. Thanks for your honest review!

Laura said...

I'm sorry to hear you didn't like this book. I met the authors at a book signing, and they were really fun to talk to! It was interesting to hear about how they wrote a book together, which wasn't easy, as they have different interests and levels of education. I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it!

I think it is important that bloggers give their honest opinion, even if it isn't a rave review. I like that you included both positives and negatives. I know the authors are working on several other books, so they can use constructive criticism from readers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a great review. I might give this one a try. I've been searching for something else Civil War related since finishing Two Brothers: One North, One South. I really liked it because it was based on real people and the author included a lot of historical detail.

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