Top 10 Novels About Things Going Horribly Wrong On The Islands | Fiction
I have lived and worked on islands and vacationed on islands and nothing (terribly) sinister has ever happened to me. This is because, of course, in reality islands are often very beautiful.
But novelists are not very nice, and fictional islands are pressure cookers, the smaller it is, the warmer it is. It doesn’t matter if the island in question is lush and tropical or a piece of rock in an Austrian lake. When there’s nowhere to go but shore and back and shore and back, everything is familiar and familiarity breeds resentment. Confrontation – with oneself, neighbors, history, society’s most sinister offerings – becomes unavoidable.
Visitors don’t help. Even when not actively causing damage, the most benign tourists carry with them their dreams of the ideal, tranquil life they would lead if they were lucky enough to live surrounded by water. If you’re a fictional islander, every influx of tourists compounds your claustrophobia.
And if you are the visitor? It’s not great either. Either you end up gazing at the chasm between your dream and reality, or – and this is when things really get out of hand – embracing the illusion and living delusional away from the continent of reality.
Below is a list of what might be called “beach reads,” though they might make you reconsider spending time on a beach again.
1. The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun (2013)
A woman working for a travel agency specializing in ungodly “dark tourism” packages explores Mui, a small island nation with a devastating history of sinkholes. She gives the experiment a “D”. The tour is not earth-shattering enough, the threat of mortal peril not keen enough, for its well-heeled patrons to feel the fear and pity they pay.
But what, asks the manager of a Mui resort, if we could offer something new? What if we could guarantee that this small island, full of sadly porous bedrock, has been hit by another disaster?
2. The Singles of Adalbert Stifter (1845)
A young man leaves his bucolic home to pick up his uncle, who lives on a remote alpine lake island. Once the smuggler leaves, his uncle orders him to drown his dear Pomeranian if he wants to enter the estate. Otherwise, he is free to sleep on the rocky ground outside, with nothing to eat or drink and only the towering mountains for company. There is no way to leave the island. The mist lifts.
Our hero is stuck. And even worse, he’s stuck in a novel by Adalbert Stifter, the writer Kafka calls “my fat brother” who is gifted with the ability to take kitschy Biedermeier scenarios and twist them into weird, singular works of literature. .
3. Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine (2011)
In an unnamed American town, a young woman picks up a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, an overwhelming obsession ignites, and her life is derailed.
No, this book does not physically take place on a small island. But the things that go horribly wrong – hilariously, with the grinning mania of a silent movie – are due to our narrator deciding to live a life modeled after Treasure Island’s Jim Hawkins. As her sister says, “You have trouble distinguishing your reality from what’s happening on Skeleton Island, don’t you?”
4. The Magus by John Fowles (1965)
This dizzying, overwhelming and infuriating doorstop tells the story of a sleazy young English teacher, Nicholas Urfe, who gets a gig on a Greek island and finds himself drawn into the dizzying, overwhelming and infuriating mind games of ‘a rich man.
Every time this book is mentioned, it appears in a maelstrom of adjectives…because it is so much, all at once. It’s wicked and virtuosic and heartbreaking and deeply bizarre and should be your next beach read if you’re feeling kinky. Or uncomfortably sane.
5. The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace (1979)
The island is Trinidad, but the island within the island is the neighborhood of Calvary Hill, Port of Spain, whose change this kaleidoscopic novel shows over the course of 20 years. As the carnival draws near, the excitement builds, but Aldrick Prospect, repulsed by the local beauty, begins to feel deep dissatisfaction: with his life, his limited options, the tourists who have overstayed and are trying to sanitize the carnival.
Then, outraged by the growing sadism of local police, the citizens of Calvary Hill rise up with an act of resistance whose consequences underscore the lingering legacy of slavery and colonialism.
6. The murderess of Alexandros Papadiamantis (1903)
By her granddaughter’s sickbed, an old woman reflects on her life of grueling poverty and horrific sexism. In the middle of a sleepless night, she wonders if infanticide might not be an act of charity, saving everyone from further misery. What follows is one murder, then another, then another…then a manhunt across a sunny Aegean island in a strange and furious fable.
7. Yōko Ogawa’s Memory Police (1994)
On an unnamed island plunged into perpetual winter, things keep disappearing. After the disappearance of these things – emeralds, birds, roses, all the boats and ferries to the mainland – knowledge of them slowly fades from the minds of most islanders, except for the unlucky few whose untouched memories spark the wrath of the kicks. Memory font. Our protagonist, a novelist, is not burdened with memories, but she learns that her beloved publisher remembers everything.
8. My Mother’s Autobiography by Jamaica Kinboss (1996)
Xuela Claudette Richardson is a woman whose ferocious intelligence is transformed into a sharp blade of observation during her troubled upbringing. Afro-Caribbean girl growing up in Dominica with a deceased mother and an often absent father, Xuela is all alone in the face of the racism of her teacher, the murderous jealousy of her stepmother, the sexual abuse of her adoptive father and the resulting pregnancy. . As an adult, Xuela rages against everything she cannot escape by choosing relentless self-sufficiency. Kincaid is still brilliant, but this lyric might be his most eviscerating.
9. The invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (1940)
A convict on the run decides to hide out on a tropical island that is said to infect all visitors with a deadly plague. He survives in relative comfort amid the ruins of a museum, a chapel, and a swimming pool filled with snakes, until the island is suddenly and mysteriously filled with tourists. Terrified of being reported to the authorities, he hides in the tidal marshes, becoming more and more disturbed, until he falls in love with one of the tourists and inserts himself among them.
Jorge Luis Borges adored this slim novel, which is part adventure story, part meditative treatise on death and eternity, part absurd comedy steeped in body horror.
ten. Moominpappa at sea by Tove Jansson (1965)
This book dispenses with the gleeful antics of the other Moomin books, revealing a molten core of psychological horror. Imagine Winnie-the-Pooh rewritten by Harold Pinter.
Patriarch Moominpappa proves to be a weak dictator, furious that his family does not depend on him. Moominmamma decides the best thing to do is get everyone to a desolate island so her husband can feel vital again. Instead, he rages in his incompetence, the family starves, the island is haunted and whipped by relentless storms, and Moominmamma literally retreats into the wallpaper.