At the beginning of the summer, I was wandering around my town’s bookstore in search of a book that would fit some very particular criteria: The book needed to be small and lightweight while still having a hardcover so that it would slide easily into my suitcase without getting ripped or taking up too much space. After looking for quite some time, I finally found what I hoped would be the perfect book: An Island by Karen Jennings.
The book, published in 2019, revolves around the story of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Africa. At the start of the book, he has worked and lived there alone for nearly two decades after his participation in a political revolutionary movement led to his imprisonment. Occasionally, Samuel finds dead bodies washed up on the shore of his island, which he always drags away and buries as best he can. One day, though, a body that washes up turns out to be alive. Paranoid that the man is secretly trying to kill him, Samuel is torn over whether to help this stranger and struggles to communicate with him due to a language barrier. As Samuel tries to cope with this new presence, he begins to reckon with his past on the mainland.
An interesting technique Jennings uses in this book is flashing back and forth between Samuel’s present on the island and his past growing up in a mainland country. It provides an interesting insight into his action and adds a lot of depth to his decidedly imperfect character. It is also worth noting that throughout the story, the African country Samuel lived in is never explicitly mentioned by name, though specifics of its political situation are mentioned. The lack of grounding in a real country allows Samuel’s story to be broader-reaching and more relatable. However, anchoring the narrative in real facts and history, despite Samuel being a fictional character, could have allowed Jennings to include more specifics and make Samuel even more realistic. I have mixed feelings about this book. While I really appreciated and enjoyed the story and felt engaged with both the plot and characters, the book was a little too graphically violent for me. Although these details would have been important if Samuel was a real person, since he is fictional some of the descriptions are written in unnecessarily gory detail. Despite this, I would still recommend An Island by Karen Jennings as it has a fascinating story that is very well-written.