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The Islanders by Christopher Priest Book Review

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On stranger tides

Release Date: 22 September 2011
432 pages | £12.99 (hardback)/£6.99 (eBook)
Author: Christopher Priest
Publisher: Gollancz

Christopher Priest isn’t a writer who favours either conventional plotlines or narrators you can trust. Or even places you can trust. The Dream Archipelago is a recurring setting in his fiction, a collection of islands that’s impossible to map accurately from the air because of “distortion” caused by “temporal gradients”. Perhaps a gazetteer would help clarify matters?

Not if The Islanders , Priest’s first novel for eight years, is anything to go by. Introduced by writer Chaster Kammeston, a key figure in what follows, it purports to be a guide to the islands. And at times it is, as the novel sometimes offers up pithy chapters that describe both wonders and - particularly in the case of deadly insects called thrymes - horrors. Initially this is confusing, but gradually patterns begin to emerge and, in longer chapters that often read like self-contained short stories, a wider narrative begins to develop. At its heart lies a killing and a doomed love affair.

Or at least that’s how it seems on first reading. You could as easily say it’s a novel about the conceptual artist and obsessive tunneller Yo, who turns an island into a musical instrument. (The making of art is a recurring theme here, helping to give the novel a near-recursive quality.)

That’s probably partly the point, because Priest certainly isn’t a writer who believes in making things easy for his readers. Which isn’t the same as saying this is an overly difficult book: rather it’s giddying, fascinating, a hugely accomplished slipstream novel.

Jonathan Wright

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