Book Review: The Island Child
The Island Child
Written by Molly Aitken
Published by Canongate
Publication date: 30th January 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and sheep’s wool, where the only book was the Bible and girls stayed in their homes until mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.
The Island Child tells two stories: of the child who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours . . .
Rich, haunting and rooted in Irish folklore, The Island Child is spellbinding debut novel about identity and motherhood, freedom and fate and the healing power of stories.
I began with my mam just like my daughter began with me.
My mam whispered the story of my birth to hook the fear in me, to keep me shut up at home with her, but as a child I loved to hear how I came to the island, because it linked me to him, the other baby born during the storm.
On the island the sea was what separated women from men. Women weren’t taken by the water. Instead, mothers were drained by the dropping tears over the bodies of their dead sons. Grandmothers vanished into old age early, almost as quick as waning moons, and girls were drowned in the tides of birthing blood. Men fought death on the sea, women in the home.
First impressions: I first saw this on Twitter, then it popped up again on Netgalley and I just had to read it. There were several things about the description which caught my attention – the island setting, which is always a draw for me. There is something about island communities
I was very excited to read this and it did not disappoint!
The story is told through a mixture of references to old folktales, modern-day Oona and flashbacks to her childhood growing up on a remote island. It is a thoughtful, slow novel but this is not a bad thing – rather this enticing slowness draws you further into the story and makes you care about the characters deeply, as well as lulling you into a false sense of security, making some of the events of the story ever more shocking.
The author’s use of language evoked the wild landscape and isolation of Inis so well, especially when describing the scenery and how Aisling and her son were destined to forever be outsiders because they hadn’t been born on the island and had not made the effort to conform to the narrow views of what was acceptable behaviour. The wildness of the sea and the extremes of human behaviour were detailed in such a powerful, and at times bleak and menacing way, that I felt as if the island itself were almost another character in the story.
Don’t miss this one if you enjoyed The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson, Folk by Zoe Gilbert, The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick or A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris.
The water bit my legs. My skirt sucked and sloshed, pulling me further out. I watched the horizon and pictured myself in a new country, a new life, a new Oona. The answer was so simple. I would leave.
‘Oona.’ The sea was calling me.
I took one last gulp of air and slipped under. The cold, the dark wrapped around me. I was with her, my sister. I reached out to her, to comfort her, and felt her arms wrap around me. She whispered my name.
What I liked: The island setting and the links to the Persephone and Hades myth, especially with its focus being on the relationship between Persephone and her mother Demeter, Oona’s relationship with her family, particularly as each was so different – the tension between her and her mother, the care yet distance between her and her father, the vast difference in how each of her brothers treated her, etc.
Even better if: While the slow pace really added to the atmosphere, I found myself becoming frustrated at Oona’s indecision at times. She was truly, wholly believable as a character so this felt realistic rather than annoying as a reader.
How you could use it in your classroom: This is an adult book and, as such, I would not use it in the classroom. However, as a book group book or for aspiring authors to study the use of language, this book would provide so many opportunities for discussion, both about the issues raised and the gorgeous language used throughout.
(Thank you to Canongate for my e-ARC)
What did other people think?
KitKat @KB Book Reviews said:
“The Island Child, by Molly Aitken is a poignant and powerful debut novel that dives into some painful and heart-breaking themes with an underlying beautiful melancholy.”
“It’s a rare pleasure to come across quite such an accomplished novel as The Island Child. This is a work positively brimming with pathos and emotion, articulated in truly exquisite prose. Oona is a captivating narrator. She’s alive on the page”
NATHAN FILER AUTHOR OF THE SHOCK OF THE FALL
“A haunting tale about the power and danger in a mother’s love”
”The Island Child is the story of a mother’s relationship with a misbegotten daughter, sensitively and subtly told”
FAY WELDON AUTHOR OF PRAXIS
“[A] highly impressive debut”
“A magical, elemental tale. Exploring loss and love, motherhood and freedom and the transformative power of stories, The Island Child is a wonderful debut”
JESS KIDD AUTHOR OF THINGS IN JARS
While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Tangleweed and Brine, Perfectly Preventable Deaths, The Wise and the Wicked, Throne of Swans, An Illusion of Thieves, A Treason of Thorns, All the Things We Never Said, Sanctuary or The Deepest Breath?
Thanks for reading!