The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Audiobook Review)
Written by: Christopher Priest
Narrated by: Michael Maloney
Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins
Publisher: Audible Ltd
The Islanders is the type of book that’s not going to be universally liked by everyone. Not that there is something hard to understand in it or it’s flawed, but because, at least in my opinion, it doesn’t fit in the classic definition for a science fiction novel. I had my suspicions after experiencing The Prestige and my expectations were for something out of the ordinary that will surprise me. I wasn’t disappointed.
The plot unfolds in a world that resembles our own and yet is entirely different. The Dream Archipelago consists of thousands of islands but nobody knows how many exactly because accurate measurements and mapping are out of the question. Why? Oh, well, nothing major but the fact that the planet’s atmosphere is full of temporal anomalies that bend space-time and make all measurements mute. Putting that aside as well as it’s inhabitants’ obsession with documenting all possible wind variations, every single one having its own name and properties, a completely normal planet. Or is it?
Priest has chosen an unusual style of writing. In the beginning I felt like I was reading a geography textbook. Descriptions and history of major islands of the archipelago, every island with a separate chapter. I was about an hour in and starting to get bored, wondering what exactly I was reading and then little stories with curious characters started trickling between the dry island descriptions. Completely unrelated at first glance, just like the archipelago islands, with complexly intertwined faiths I saw different people coping with the fear of being alone, family relations, personal and work life conflicts, the point and value of art and many more.
Every part of the novel is it’s own story in a different place having to do with different people which makes the whole experience a little fragmented. I was just starting to like a character and bam! – the chapter suddenly ends. That’s it. A new story begins and as it unfolds you notice little references to the previous ones which changes the context of how you perceived them at the first place. Exceptionally eery and interesting experience.
The tagline of the novel is ‘All men are islands’ which makes sense only after you’ve read the whole thing. Regardless of how close we are as humans, each one of us is alone – a little island in the ocean. The little interactions between us enrich us, give meaning to our lives and form our identities but ultimately last a very short time. In the end, each of us is nothing but a lonely island.
The narration was flawless as far as I’m concerned. Michael Maloney had a nice tempo to his reading and his British accent was pleasant and easy to understand. I’ve read this book in print too and the audiobook is far superior way to experience it in my opinion. The narration adds a whole new layer of character and atmosphere that simply isn’t there if you’re just staring at a paper page while riding the subway.
Yes, The Islanders isn’t a science fiction novel with space ships, aliens or any science goodies but it’s high quality fiction that captivates the mind and makes you ask questions, creates associations and nostalgia long after you’ve finished reading it. In that sense, The Islanders by Christopher Priest is one of the most literary fiction books I’ve read recently and is an experience that you shouldn’t miss.
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