Shadows in the Ward is the latest novel by Katherine Anderson, author of Hospital Hill. This particular book combines elements of suspense, mystery and thriller in unique measures to create an unusual reading experience. The book follows Anna Gillman, who having finished her Masters program, begins her internship at Westborough State Hospital as a psychiatric nurse.
The normal challenges of internships and beginning a career are soon overshadowed by larger problems. A patient with a fixation on Anna. Anna sleepwalking and ending up in the same room in an unused part of the hospital. Anna’s discover that her mother may have been a patient at Westborough. Her family history is complicated and convoluted. The events occurring around her at Westborough are not making anything clearer. Anna’s mother has been missing from her life since she was a child. So when these events begin happening Anna is clueless about her own history. “Of course children never imagine there will come a day when their parents won’t be around to answer those questions.” This is a very powerful statement. I lost my mom at 26 and my dad at 39. There were so many things I never thought to ask my mom about until later in my life after she was gone.
Ms. Anderson creates characters who seem real and seem to inhabit the same reality the reader does. Case in point, “Harper told Anna about a disastrous blind date she had gone on a couple days before and Anna laughed heartily as Harper recounted the end of the night indecision of kiss, handshake, or hug; she described it as an embarrassing adult version of rock, paper, scissors.” That sounds exactly like a conversation my friends and I could have. Especially the rock, paper, scissors part. Harper and Anna have a very real friendship. It resonated with me as a reader.
The mood is set so well. “An asylum ward at night was a strange thing. You knew it was night because it was dark outside, but still there was a glow of light that never went away no matter how late it was. There was the pool of fluorescence given off by the nurses’ station, the soft flickering of the safety lights high up where the wall met the ceiling.” Another passage I loved was , “The floorboards were beginning to warp from moisture that was slowly seeping in through the holes in the roof that were growing and spreading like a disease, leaving the wards exposed to the elements.” There are just so many nice images and atmospheric touches that I have come to expect from Ms. Anderson.
There is also a touch on a very real issue in our world. “Anna had a hard time agreeing with the concept of deinstitutionalization. From everything she had read in the library she had learned that communities hadn’t been ready to receive hundreds of mentally ill patients being released from the asylums.” This is an excellent point. There was no plan for how to deal with patients once deinstitutionalized. We are still reaping the seeds of that today.
The book has a wonderful set of plot twists that keeps the reader on edge and unsure until the very end. I really enjoy Ms. Anderson’s writing. Her characters are relatable. Her mysteries are not predictable and much more enjoyable because of that. My major enjoyment is just the rich atmosphere she creates through her use of language and phrasing. I recommend Shadows in the Ward for a read that is sure to raise goosebumps.