by Howard Jacobson
2014 / 342 pages
read by Adjoa Andoh and Colin Mace  11h 5m
rating 7

I read this back in July but the Booker Group is just now discussing it and I felt a reread would do me good.  Sigh.  I was interested for the first half or so but then there was too much strangeness to try to tie into the main themes – and this is a theme driven book.

Ailinn Solomons and Kevern Cowan live on an island off the coast of England about 50 or 60 years from now.  Something terrible has happened and there has been a clampdown on any kind of ethnic identity or prejudice of many sorts.  So there is no ethnic violence but domestic violence skyrockets.

Kevern has lived in Port Reuben all his life.  Ailinn has recently moved in. It seems they are “meant to” meet,  fall in love, etc.

I did care about Kevern and Ailinn – they seem to be quite robust as characters with distinct personalities and idiosyncrasies.

But for the others I’d have to say no – they’re included to present their thoughts and experience of the world as Jacobson has invented it.

I read Aldous Huxley’s old novel “Island” not too long ago.  That was so stupid.  The story was developed simply to convey Huxley’s ideas about a utopia which goes bad.  There was no plot really – something about saving this utopia from the concerns of the world – a guy lands in it and is shown around while the Raj and his mother the queen go about undermining the place with their desire to sell oil and bring western values in. The other characters just show the new guy all the love and peace and sharing and sex and excellent health, child care,  and spirituality the islanders have.   Huxley thought this was his best book.

That’s what tends to happen when the author’s goal is to sell an idea rather than a story.

Fortunately,  Jacobson is not Huxley (lol) but he likes to play with ideas as well as tell stories.  So he essentially built a world (an important part of sci-fi and dystopian fiction) around one basic “what if” idea – what if there were a community without any racial/ethnic prejudices at all – none – and developed that world as completely as he could.

But the creation of that world took precedence over storyline and characters.  The world is pretty good, but the plot is in hiding (I think it could have been much better) and the characters are for the most part mouthpieces for individual views of that world.  –  I’m thinking of Esme, Gutkind, the barber-historian, the professor, etc.


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