“The Island” was a deeply satisfying read. The writing is sparse but confident, delivering movement between multiple points of view and backwards and forwards across multiple timelines so seamlessly that there is never any confusion, only a growing sense of tension as the plot is revealed.
The way in which the plot is revealed is innovative without being gimmicky. Ragnor Jonasson offers the reader different views of a complex pattern that we know will come together like a beautiful piece of lace and invites us to guess the design as he turns a piece of it in front of us. He presents a person and a set of events, bringing them into vivid focus, and then moves on, repeating the process but with people and situations that don’t immediately seem to be linked to the last point of focus. A lot of the fun comes from holding these points in your mind and trying to connect them before Jonasson does it for you.
“The Island” is more than a clever plot. It is the story of people whose lives are ruined by an act of violence. I liked the fact that it was not the act but its consequences that Jonasson focused on. He shows us people in pain because of guilt, shame, and grief. He makes that pain real, not to celebrate the pain but to build empathy with the people suffering. This is less a whodunnit and more a look-what-happens-when-this-is-done.
It is a sad book, filled with small acts of deception or greed or aggression that damage the happiness both of the person committing them and the person they are committed against. It’s a bok where the quiet struggle with despair is always present.
“The Island” is the second book in the “Hiden Iceland” series, which started with “The Darkness”. The main character in both books is Reykjavík police detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir. In “The Darkness” Hulda was sixty-four and approaching retirement. At the start of the events in “The Island”, she is forty. I was curious to see how this technique of revealing Hulda’s life backwards would work, Jonasson makes it into more than a marketing trick. He uses is to deepen the sadness of the book. Knowing how Hulda’s career ends and how she felt about her life when she was sixty-four adds poignancy to how she spends the decade this story extends over.
I’m now looking forward to the next book, “The Mist” which will be released in English next year.
I listened to the audiobook version of “The Island” which was narrated by Amanda Redman. I recommend it to you.