Sunday, May 19, 2024

Eight novels set on fictional islands

Elizabeth O'Connor lives in Birmingham. Her short stories have appeared in The White Review and Granta, and she was the 2020 winner of the White Review Short Story Prize. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Birmingham, specialising in the modernist writer H.D. and her writing of coastal landscapes.

O'Connor's new novel is Whale Fall.

At Electric Lit she tagged eight novels that are
set on unnamed or fictional islands; making them not grounded in a specific geography of place, but in the idea of an island. These unnamed islands have a global reach across Europe, Asia, East Africa, and North America, but the islands’ conditions—of isolation, of insularity, of instability—point to similar underlying ideas of disruption, allegory, colonial legacy and environmental care, forming an archipelago of novels mapping their connections to each other.
One title on O'Connor's list:
The Colony by Audrey Magee

I found The Colony greatly inspiring while finishing the edits for Whale Fall. Magee’s unnamed island has some geographical models in the peninsulas around the coastline of West Ireland, such as the Aran islands and Blasket islands, and clear literary heritage in J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, and Colm Tóibín. Yet as its title suggests, Magee’s island is deliberately unnamed to place its themes ahead of geography; it is a novel about colonialism, culture, and language.

Its drama, as with other titles on this list, concerns the arrival of outsiders: Lloyd is a London artist looking to revitalise his flagging career, and Jean-Pierre, a French linguist, charting and recording the island’s native Irish language. They clash over their mythologising of the islanders, whose numbers dwindle in the double-figures, and overlook their impact on this struggling community. While the story roots itself in an Irish perspective, with radio bulletins about the Troubles in Northern Ireland interspersing the narrative, it dramatises the legacy between colonised and coloniser with a global outlook.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue