The Islanders by Christopher Priest (book review).

If only I understood the mind of Chris Priest then the secrets of the universe would be all mine. ‘The Islanders’ is another book that teases us with knowledge but offers up little that can be pinned down. To say that this is elusive is an understatement.


Everything is unclear from the introductions that could not be, by a writer who is already dead according to the body of the book to the will o’ the wisp moments and small truths that might be inserted in the narrative. ‘The Islanders’ is set up as a sort of tour guide to the islands that form the Dream Archipelago that Priest has previously written about. There is not one big story here as the moments and descriptions are divided into chapters that are ostensibly about individual islands. There are at least two underlying stories that get repeated and changed by the different narrators.

The thing about the Dream Archipelago is that it sits in a neutral zone whilst the war goes on around it and also in a place that has a sort of time vortex. Yep, I’m still trying to get my head around this. What Priest seems to be saying is that this is a journey. Sometimes people set off for one island but never make it and I’m convinced they sometimes meet themselves coming back. Nothing is clear apart from the narratives that, by being repeated from different angles, force themselves into our consciousness and they persist for a long time after you’ve finished the book.

One such story is that of a man who is tried for murder in a theatre, another is about the real murderer-possibly, another about an artist that drills holes in mountains and another about an infestation of killer bugs. There is a whole lot going on, not least that confusing introduction which you are drawn back to.

The whole book has a dream-like quality but it does make you sit up and really pay attention to the stories so much so that you try to recreate in your own head a linking narrative, a pattern that we humans are so obsessed with. There are some seriously disturbing minds in this book and it makes a refreshing change from boy meets girl, boy kills girl narratives but don’t expect an easy ride.

I enjoyed this hugely and when I’m ready to get my mind scarred again, I’ll tackle another in the series.

Sue Davies

April 2014

(pub: Gollancz. 339 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-07004-2)

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