The Islanders by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Christopher Priest is one hell of a writer.
What first appears to be a rather dry travelogue of islands, fauna, and different societies, traditions, and mirroring interconnectedness in physical location is, in fact, a novel of tricky space-time confusions, and many-layered lies told both among the inhabitants of the islands and also of lies between the two big continents that are waging an endless (and staged) war, supposedly leaving the Islands like a fascinating Switzerland between them.
But wait! That's just the big stuff. The mirroring goes deeper when we discover and revisit the murder of a mime across so many stories within this novel, going from mismanaged justice to deeper mysteries of interconnectedness, always coming back to the stories of death and taking care of the estate of the relative who has died, with great reveals hidden like stunning jewels throughout.
We get connections to the other Priest novels, including the letters of the main character of The Affirmation. It's quite complicated but not at all a chore to read. In fact, Priest has a glorious way with characterizations, always returning to fascinating sexual encounters, death, loss, and searching. He's also devoted to writers, musicians, mimes, sculptors, and painters.
The picture we get for all of the islands is probably the most complex and odd I've ever read... as in almost entirely recognizable, but deeply suspicious and ever-increasingly and fundamentally strange.
The biggest bit like that is the one where flying around a single island gives you a different island depending on which direction you go around it. Or that from the surface you can see staggered and nearly immobile airplanes locked in time.
This is definitely science fiction. We get everything from native viewpoints to high-tech drones and warfare with enormous research facilities. Moreover, though, it's a novel of unreliable narration and narrators, an unravelling puzzle of life and especially this location that seems to be an island locked within a vortex of time. I say "seems". There is no spelling this out. And yet I don't care. It's thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
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