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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Islanders

Pascal Garnier

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To purchase The Islanders

Title: The Islanders
Author: Pascal Garnier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Islanders - US
The Islanders - UK
The Islanders - Canada
Les Insulaires - Canada
The Islanders - India
Les Insulaires - France
  • French title: Les Insulaires
  • Translated by Emily Boyce

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Our Assessment:

B : solidly twisting dark tale, but not quite the usual sure touch

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/4/2020 John Banville
Publishers Weekly . 20/4/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Readers who appreciate the gallows humor of Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry will be pleased." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Islanders is set during a Christmas-time cold spell, and it is an icy tale. It opens with Olivier on the way to Versailles to deal with his mother's inconvenient death -- which soon becomes an even greater inconvenience, as they won't be able to bury her for a week, and Olivier's plan for even an interim escape -- "He was prepared to leave and come back again two days later, anything to avoid hanging around in this shithole" -- are dashed by the cold conditions, which mean even the trains aren't running.
       Other characters are also introduced, each in isolation: down on his luck young Roland, who just lost his Father Christmas-job; blind Rodolphe, obsessed with Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa -- and the story behind it; and Jeanne, his sister. What exchanges they have with others in the opening scenes -- including Rodolphe explaining the story behind his favorite painting to an unsuspecting Louvre-visitor and Olivier dealing with Madeleine, his mother's nosy cleaning lady -- are aggressive, verging on unpleasant. And death continues to hover in the air: "Roland stuttered something like, 'I'm dying, Monsieur, I'm dying ...'" to the priest who finds him outside the presbytery door, while even the scene of busy shoppers suggests:

There was a general desire to end it all, drowning in bad champagne and foie gras from Monoprix.
       The four find each other: it turns out Jeanne and her brother live in the apartment across from Olivier's mother, while Rodolphe takes a shine to hapless Roland and invites him home for dinner. Beyond that, Olivier and Jeanne actually know each other from long ago, a quarter of a century earlier, when they were teenagers. But something very bad happened back then, explaining why they hadn't sought each other out since. As Olivier admits:
I wanted to wipe it all out, forget, pretend nothing ever ... but I never really managed it.
       They had left death in their wake -- a young child, with a tramp going down in their stead for the murder -- technically escaping scot-free. In fact, it did mark both their lives; since the age of sixteen Olivier: "had loved nothing and nobody but alcohol", for example, finally giving it up only two years ago, and even settling down in marriage. But being thrown together with Jeanne again stirs up a lot of long-suppressed feelings, and Olivier turns to drink again. The abyss then quickly swallows him and all of them.
       Just like twenty-five years earlier, something very bad happens -- and Jeanne and Olivier manage only to compound things in trying, after a fashion, to set things right (or at least deal with them), As Olivier laments:
     'Jeanne, Jeanne ... Why is there death everywhere we go ?'
     'So that we can live, Olivier. That's just the way it is.'
       Not surprisingly, this philosophy only gets them so far -- though admiittedly, pretty far.
       Garnier has to resort to the drunk-excuse, his protagonist Olivier losing (parts of his) memory as well as considerable self-control in sinking back into stunning alcoholic excess, which -- as is almost always the case -- feels a bit forced (and forced on the character). It also doesn't entirely feel like Garnier found the right mix of how much attention to devote to each of his central characters as he shifts around, and a few bits of the story remain a too underdeveloped -- notably the accident/crime of Jeanne and Olivier's youth, as well as Olivier's wife, kept too effectively at a distance.
       Olivier's disintegration -- physical, mental, psychological, and moral -- proceeds almost too suddenly -- it's like he is in free-fall -- and the more controlled and controlling Jeanne makes for a balance to that which also deserves to be more fully fleshed out. As a whole, The Islanders is a good concept and story that is just missing a final polish, evening out some of the bumps. But in its parts there's still lots of vintage Garnier to be found here -- wickedly fun stuff, and wonderfully dark scenes (and horrible people) from modern life.
       If not a full success -- Garnier has set the stage pretty high for himself with his other works -- The Islanders is still a considerably better (and creepier) bitter noir than most -- and about as unChristmasy as any story you could ever imagine.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 May 2015

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The Islanders: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Garnier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Garnier lived 1949 to 2010.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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