An Island by Karen Jennings
5/17/22; 224 pages
Penguin Random House
An Island by Karen Jennings is a highly recommended
allegorical novel of a light keeper on an isolated island who has
a stranger wash ashore.
Samuel has live on a small island as a lighthouse keeper off the
coast of an unnamed African country for many years. He tends his
garden, builds his wall surrounding it, cares for his chickens and
the lighthouse, and buries any bodies that wash ashore. When a
stranger washes ashore still alive, Samuel manages to get him up
to his home. The stranger seems to be recovering, leaving Samuel
uncertain what he should do.
He vividly remembers his former life on the mainland where he was
a political prisoner and his country was exploited under colonial
rule. After a revolution, his country won independence, but this
did not change the suffering of the people. The stranger induces in
Samuel pondering and reminiscing about events that have occurred
in his past. Samuel knows how fickle people and governments can
be, and how only certain lives are actually valued, those who can
promote the current regime and their plans.
The narrative follows Samuel recalling his past and trying to
live with the stranger. This is really a character study of an old
man who has seen enough in the past to doubt what the present has
to offer. He is used to being alone and having this stranger
living with him on his island is jarring to his sensibilities, but
is also causing Samuel to remember events from his past. This
juxtaposition of past and present results in mistrust and
resentment in Samuel over the stranger which can be akin to the
struggles of his unnamed country.
This is a bleak, forlorn novel written in spare prose and meager
but essential details. The tension and foreboding runs high,
although nothing occurs in the present day to warrant it, Samuel's
imagination and reflections on the past are brought to the
forefront of the present. 3.5 rounded up
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hogarth Press via NetGalley.