Friday, 6 March 2009

The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor

A father and his three children live alone on a remote island after a flood has destroyed the rest of the world. They live in the Ark that the father built to survive the flood and live on the produce from the animals they brought with them, aswell as fruit they grow and meat they hunt. Sounds familiar so far, but this is set in the modern world. It’s a biblical style flood in twenty-first century America!

We join the story when they have been on the island for a number of years, and the two youngest children Daisy (3) and Finn (8) have no recollection of their mother, who they have been told died in the flood trying to rescue daisy. Alice (14), however remembers her mother and the world before, and it is through Alice’s questioning that we first start to question the father’s story. Alice is sure she has memories of her mother being on the island, but she can’t remember clearly enough to be sure.

It’s very difficult to review this book without giving too much of the plot away, but suffice to say all is not as it seems. The book is divided into two parts, with both parts having multiple narrators. As a reader, you quite often find you are reading about the same event from two different perspectives and it is not until you have read all the accounts that you know what is actually happening. I found myself constantly changing my mind as to what had gone on as I got further into the story. The first part is alternately narrated by Pa and Finn, with Alice’s distress being expressed through her reactions with them. Finn’s chapters are narrated in a strange, half phonetic style that makes them very difficult to read.

“I don’t have many pictures of her in my head only five or six but in two of em shes here.
Here I echo
On the I-land
I kinda snort and say Well thats wrong
How do you no.
Cus Ma were never here. She never made it to the I-land. She died saving daisy dint she.
But in my pictures shes here Alice sists. I member it.”

It is Pa’s narrative that suggests most that all is not as it seems. He seems on the surface to be the loving caring family man, doing his best for his family in the most extreme circumstances but certain things seem to suggest otherwise. He drinks a lot, kills Finn’s cat in a fit of temper and seems very concerned about another person approaching on the sea, telling his children to ignore everything he might say to them.

The second part of this book is narrated mainly by Pa and Alice and is concerned with the arrival of the stranger on the island. From this point on the whole thing unravels and the insanity of the father is exposed, finally culminating in Alice reading her fathers journal and the whole truth being revealed to her and the readers simultaneously.

The language and writing styles of the various narrators play a major part in the understanding of this book. Finn’s childish, half phonetic speech is brilliant at conveying his childish belief in everything he’s told and complete faith in his father. And it does get easier to read as you adjust to the style. Through the narration of Alice, Finn and Pa we see the degeneration of the father, with his language descending into stream of consciousness interspersed with religious dogma when he’s at his worst, as well as the continued frustration of Alice with the world she now has to live in. There are only three books on the island, Grimms fairy tales which Daisy reads and Finn refers to frequently, The Bible which Finn is just starting to read and Shakespeare, which Alice is reading. Specifically Alice is reading Romeo and Juliet and struggling with the idea that she may never know love like that.

This is an interesting book, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I wish I could say more about it to review it better, but that would give away the plot and therefore ruin the suspense inherent in the novel.


Diane said...

The writing style looks tough to get used to, but the premise sounds great!

farmlanebooks said...

I don't know how I missed this review. I'm going to try to order a copy from the library today. I have heard really good things about it, and I love books which aren't what they seem!

Kathy said...

Just finished reading this one last night, and realized your post about Taylor's first book is the way I found your blog in the first place!! I had forgotten about that.

I haven't had a chance to post about this book yet but I loved it and can't wait to blog about it . . . though I totally agree that it will be difficult to say much without giving too much away. I still have some questions that I won't want to blog about (spoilers) so maybe after I post I can email you so we can discuss the book "privately"!

Have you read Taylor's other book? If not, you need to!

Jo said...

Kathy, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I have just commented on your post too.
I've read the Republic of Trees, which I enjyed, but not quite as much as this one, but I still have to read the Amnesiac.