Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor

The great flood has washed away the whole world, except for Pa, Alice, Finn, and Daisy. Pa saw the signs and built an ark, which delivered the small family safely to an island where they have lived all alone for the past 6 years -- alone until the "dark mark" appears on the horizon, and approaches their island. Their security, their survival, and their trust in all they know is in jeopardy.

The story begins with Pa as the narrator, who speaks almost in tongues. When he's not shouting f**k, his favorite word, he's quoting the bible, describing the old world and their past life as Babylon. He shouts words like greed, celebrity, and money to himself or out loud, we're never sure. His sanity is of question from the first page. Then the narration jumps between Pa and Finn, the eight year-old son, whose phonetic language, which takes a while to understand, was something I never got used to reading. When the children start to question how their memories and the stories their Pa tells them don't match up, Finn says, "The memrys are fine Alice theres no thing rong with em. You orter treasure em. Jus dont be leave in em too strongly cus like mos memrys theyre lusions theyre not real." Of course, young Finn is just repeating what Pa had told him about their memories being contaminated and wrong. Pa especially doesn't want them remembering too much about their mother. Towards the end of the book, Alice, the eldest sibling and teenager of the group, adds her perspective. Since she has only read the bible, Shakespeare, and fairy tales, her voice takes on a romantic feel, exaggerated by the drama every teenager injects into their lives.

Without giving too much away, I can say the "dark mark" turns out to be Finn, a man who Pa knew from the "old world", and turns this family upside down. Everything the children were told by their father will be questioned, especially that which has to do with their mother. They live on an island, but their father refuses to teach them how to swim, and they are finally starting to question why. I found the story as dark as I had expected it to be. The narration, while awkward at first, helped to balance out the psychotic ramblings of the father with the progression of the storyline, which we got more from the children.

The book was predictable in a "haven't I heard this story before?" kind of way, and the reveal of Pa's big secret was something I could have guessed. Yet, just imagining the big secret was terrifying. The father in The Island at the End of the World: A Novel especially reminded me of the father from The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. I felt the ending was awfully abrupt, but the novel had reached a point where it could have continued for another 200 pages, or it could end, and leave us wondering or fearing what was coming next. Despite the deja vu, and the sometimes difficult language, Sam Taylor's latest novel met my expectations, and gave me some well-earned nightmares. If you're looking for a dark, twisty tale of a post-apocalyptic world from the mind of a man having a 6-year long nervous breakdown, this is the book for you.

Special thanks to Penguin Books.

1 comment:

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

It sounds like an interesting twist on a classic sci-fi premise. Thanks for the review!

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