The third book I read in this month’s 12 in 12 Challenge was a short, stand-alone novel by Pascal Garnier translated by Emily Boyce called The Islanders. I had not heard of this author before and received the book as part of a monthly subscription I have with Book Ninjas who send me a pre-loved book from an independent publisher each month. These books are all very different from one another and I have often never heard of the author or title. I enjoy the subscription as a way to widen my reading at a low cost.
The Islanders is set in France, specifically in the town of Versailles, andtakes place over a very short time period – a week or so over Christmas. Olivier has travelled to the town to bury his mother. It is many years since he has been there and he unexpectedly encounters Jeanne and her blind brother Rodolphe. Jeanne and Olivier knew each other as children and had a close, inclusive relationship where they created a fantasy life together on an imaginary island. Their close relationship eventually caused a death. They haven’t met since. Meeting together again after so long they find it easy to resume this fantasy and it begins, as before, to lead to tragedy.
Complicating the situation is the presence of Rodolphe who is a deeply unpleasant man who uses his blindness as a weapon to embarrass and provoke others and also a homeless man who he has invited to share their home over the festive period. You know from the beginning that this is not going to end well and the book shows the situation slowly unravelling and one tragedy piling upon another.
The book is compelling reading as the story shows each of these people disintegrating. None of them are pleasant to start with and their worst characteristics come to the fore over the period of the book. Olivier is an alcoholic who begins to have delusions. Jeanne becomes so dependent on Olivier that she will do anything to spend time with him. Rodolphe seems to live only to confront others with their failings and to belabour them with foul language, and Roland the homeless man is a thief and manipulator. There is nothing pleasant in this story and the physical environment decays as well to match the characters. The ending is inevitable and satisfying in a perverse way.
I found the book gripping and it is quick to get through but it is difficult to say that I enjoyed it. It is an interesting story in its own way though and I am glad that I read it.