The Islanders

The Islanders

Book - 2011
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A tale of murder, artistic rivalry and literary trickery; a chinese puzzle of a novel where nothing is quite what it seems; a narrator whose agenda is artful and subtle; a narrative that pulls you in and plays an elegant game with you.

The Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across the archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across its waters.

The Islanders serves both as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands, an intriguing, multi-layered tale of a murder and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator.

It shows Christopher Priest at the height of his powers and illustrates why he has remained one of the country's most prized novelists.

Publisher: London : Gollancz, 2011.
ISBN: 9780575070042
Characteristics: 339 p. ; 24 cm.

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gendeg
Oct 14, 2014

The pact we make as readers of fiction is willful suspension of disbelief. In The Islanders, Christopher Priest has come up with new ways to make even that literary pact suspect. As one friend put it, "he's not just screwing with you but with your ontological certainty." Trying to write a thoughtful review of this Rubik's Cube of a book was as difficult as trying to unravel the narrative itself. As I was reading, I kept hearing the Twilight Zone theme song in my head, and I had this low-grade paranoia that the islands I was reading about were much more than they seemed.

Priest is a science fiction author who is widely known for books that play with illusion and unreliability. Like the illusionists in his earlier work The Prestige, Priest is a cunning underminer of assumptions and conditions. The Islanders thrills by throwing you off balance in the same way. It's an icy burn of a read but not a slog. The book is simply told (the prose is quite flat actually), yet complex in concept and structure, full of shifting shadows and smoke and mirrors. Something deep and seismic is going on here. Even now I'm not sure what it is exactly but I know it's there. So don't think too hard when you read this book (though you probably will). When you arrive on the islands, toss out your compass and enjoy the tour.

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survivalcycles
Apr 29, 2013

Wow! I was fully prepared to put this book aside without finishing but, happily, kept at it. Worth the read; Priest manages to turn things around completely towards the end. A slow build to a distinctly satisfying conclusion. His dreaming, often mythic prose reminds me of the work of Italo Calvino.

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