What to make of ‘The Islanders’

If you go into Christopher Priest’s The Islanders expecting a normal novel – straight-forward narrative, three-act story, etc. – you’re not doing yourself any favors. Because normal doesn’t even vacation near the Dream Archipelago.

What The Islanders is, in part, is what it the “author’s” forward says it is: An attempt to catalogue some of the endless islands found in the Dream Archipelago. Many of the entries are what you’d expect to read in any travel magazine, a rather simple explanation of climate, attractions, when to visit, etc. Some are first-person accounts of time spent on that particular island. There are odder entries as well, such as a police transcript.

What it evolves into are numerous things. We get a history behind the history of many artists and public figures, as well as key events of great political and human rights importance. We get accounts of military atrocities, mystical happenings and ecological anomalies. And, despite our author’s protestations of what an ideal and wonderful place the Dream Archipelago is, the curtain is lifted to find its inhabitants are also just as vain, mean, confused and opportunistic as anyone anywhere.

I feel like I’m underselling this, and I shouldn’t be. Priest tells some interesting, intimate tales, while taking full advantage of the vast scope of his fictional project to do it. The Islanders has its own, unique brilliance. It’s just not a brilliance that’s easy to explain.

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5 thoughts on “What to make of ‘The Islanders’

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    “normal novel – straight-forward narrative, three-act story” — you mean, a normal SF/F novel? Because, this is not unusual for literature.

    Yeah, the Dream Archipelago “landscape” has couched many of his short stories and novels for decades.

    • adamlaredo says:

      The bulk of English literature/drama, including sci-fi, follows the traditional three-act structure. There’s no rule requiring that, but it’s the truth. My point was that, if you picked up “The Islanders” expecting that sort of structure, that’s not what you’d be getting, which, I think, is a fair warning to the general reading public, which is probably more accustomed to works by Stephen King, John Grisham, Stephanie Meyer and the like than they are, say, a James Joyce. I guess I’m not sure what the point of your comment was without more context.

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        Hmm, I guess I read more experimental works which do not always adhere to such formulae….

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        But yes, it is a fair warning! 🙂

      • adamlaredo says:

        I also enjoy authors that don’t care to adhere to that tried-and-true formula, which is part of what I enjoyed about “The Islanders.” I picked it up knowing nothing about Priest or the book, other than what I read on the back cover. It was a pleasant surprise for me, but when I think of some other avid readers I know (for example, my mom), I know they’d either not finish or not be fan. Like you said, it was “fair warning” for those readers. Thanks for the comments.

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