Following the death of his mother, Olivier is stranded in a snowy Versailles over Christmas. When he goes to ask his neighbour for the phonebook, an old flame opens the door. He hasn’t seen his high school love Jeanne in twenty years. But their past hides secrets, and her blind brother Rodolphe soon works out who Olivier is…
Was Jeanne still Jeanne? Why should life, which spares no one, make an exception for her?
The Islanders is the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas tales. As with Pascal Garnier’s other books, the tone is dark and the characters on a varying scale of dislikeable. What seems like a straightforward, if a little inconvenient, Christmas soon starts to go downhill. It’s a reminder that Christmas isn’t a time of cheer for everyone and the already cynical may appreciate the dark humour at this time of year.
Olivier is a recovering alcoholic, but he is soon lured back to the drink with devastating consequences. Rodolphe has become bitter at the world, overweight and blind, he might as well be invisible. Something that his sister and Olivier never were at school. But they wanted to be on their island, alone and separated from the world.
Someone had once told him you became an adult the day you started avoiding puddles.
There’s a lot of observations about growing up, about getting older. Their imaginary island is a symbol of their youthful naivety. A place they expected to be when they grew up. Instead Jeanne is trapped with her disabled and manipulative brother and Olivier is unfeeling in his marriage but brought alive by drink. Is there any way for them to get back to their island or has it been submerged forever?
I liked the little slice of this Paris suburb at Christmas. How all the shops and cafes seemed to remain open and you could just wander down for fresh croissants on Christmas morning. The book is a little dated, I’m assuming this was written quite some time before it was published, or Garnier never embraced modern life. There’s phonebooks and videotapes and a world in which you can disappear easily by not answering the door. Though sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the days before technology took over our lives.
The Islanders has been translated from the original French by Emily Boyce for Gallic Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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