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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Dragon Island

Jacques Godbout

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To purchase Dragon Island

Title: Dragon Island
Author: Jacques Godbout
Genre: Novel
Written: 1976 (Eng. 1978)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Dragon Island - US
Dragon Island - UK
Dragon Island - Canada
L'Isle au dragon - Canada
L'Isle au dragon - France
  • French title: L'Isle au dragon
  • Translated By David Ellis

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Our Assessment:

B : spirited, but overshoots its ambitions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Books in Canada . 4/1979 Wayne Grady

  From the Reviews:
  • "(R)ather a retreat into fantasy and allegory -- a common venue in French Canadian literature -- than a bold, prophetic manifesto. (...) The symbolism, though tortuous, is presented with enough panache to make it enjoyable" - Wayne Grady, Books in Canada

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:

       Dragon Island is narrated by a man who has long gone by the: "war-inspired pseudonym, Michel Beauparlant", writing from Isle Verte and sending off most of the installments of his story -- a chapter a day for just over a week -- in bottles that he throws into the water, in the expectation that they'll eventually wash up in interested hands. His writing -- and desperate actions -- have been triggered by a sudden change of circumstances: Canadian parliament has designated the paradisiacal island a "strategic territory", and leased it for thirty years to American conglomerate Pennsylvania & Texas International, with all the island's inhabitants given a week to evacuate their homes. P & T International's plans for the site ? The creation of: "Quebec's first Controlled Atomic Dump" -- waste management they apparently remuneratively specialize in:

Stored inside the CADs are lead containers which hold radioactive waste, lethal gases, the liquids and pollens of the biological arsenal, which have been deemed obsolete or unmanageable, as well as certain industrial by-products too difficult to get rid of by any other means.
       Simplifying matters, P & T International isn't just an American capitalist-imperialist behemoth, set to sully and defile pure Quebecois land -- this island that is: "beautiful at every turn" --, but its evil is personified, in the form of company president and billionaire William T. Shaheen Jr., the bad guy behind all this and the man Michel sets his sights on.
       So far, so good -- but Godbout complicates matters by also making it personal. Michel and Shaheen have history; Michel sees Shaheen as his nemesis. It's an odd history, too, involving eighteen-year-old Michel finding work on a movie set and catching Shaheen defiling Marilyn Monroe, and being bribed for his silence. Shaheen took further interest in Michel when they both left the scene, but couldn't quite corrupt him; from the first he rubs Michel the wrong way -- with the present-day situation developing into a him-or-me (and what each represents ...) confrontation.
       A more intriguing twist in the build-up comes as Michel describes his path after his failed efforts on the film lot as a teen. Uncertain of what to do with his life, he sought advice from the Canadian Institute of Career Guidance, Inc. and took their psychological evaluation tests. The results ? After ruling out engineering and architecture (his maths skills aren't up to snuff) they also note:
     We must also rule out business, religion and interior decoration. Law might well suit you, though you would certainly have to develop more of a taste for, and facility with, logical reasoning.
       Their conclusion, however: "you would do well, we think, to consider becoming a dragon stalker".
       All symbolism aside -- hard as it is to ignore throughout the novel -- they mean that literally. And Michel is easily convinced, taking up his studies -- after some further complications (that also involve the assuming of his pseudonym) -- at the illustrious French School of Dragon Stalkers in Paris.
       It's a clever idea -- especially when seen in the light of what one of his professors explains:
     The Dragon is a theoretical creature, gentlemen, as you are perfectly aware, and if our graduates are busy making a success of their endeavors all over the universe, it's because they have been willing to call into question -- as you, it would seem, are not yet prepared to do -- their whole vision of the world.
       Yes, Michel does become a dragon hunter -- but the point, of course, is to see the world differently. And, of course, aside from mythic sea-creatures and the like, among the dragons that need slaying in the contemporary capitalist-industrialist-imperialist world order are ones of a different nature -- multi-national corporate behemoths.
       Godbout plays around with the dragon-slaying premise quite well, as well as the more easily relatable takeover and threat to Isle Verte. And Michel is realistic enough a character to also recognize things such as that:
There's a little Shaheen dormant in all of us; it may be touching to denounce pollution, but that's what life is, consuming and polluting, and the sidewalks that really teem are the ones that are really filthy ... look ! It may be touching to throw back the visor and take up Nature's fight, but cities are the nature that man has made for himself, in his image and likeness
       The narrative does veer quite wildly across the eight days Michel chronicles. Michel -- all attitude -- is an interesting narrator-guide, but it does all get a bit frenzied in the tangents he rants off on along the way (such as about the bottles he sends his chapters off in). Dragon Island is a straightforward capitalist-imperialist critique, and Godbout can never quite disguise that in the way he sometimes seems to be trying to. It also feels impatient: it's a short book, stuffed with points -- and some nicely turned observations -- that doesn't fully develop or exploit some of its great potential -- notably the dragon-slaying. So too, Godbout struggles some with the balance of making the conflict personal -- Michel v. Shaheen -- as opposed to focusing on the larger issues that are also at play here.
       A sharp, quick, over-full read, Dragon Island isn't really a success, but it's more than just clever diversion, too. And the variation on the dragon-slayer premise -- familiar as it has become by now -- is good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 December 2018

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Dragon Island: Other books by Jacques Godbout under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Jacques Godbout was born in 1933.

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© 2018-2020 the complete review

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