Review: “Island” by Jane Rogers

For the love of books

… Stories tell lies. That’s why they’re good. Someone’s made it up. …

~ excerpt from “Chapter 5: On mothers” in Island by Jane Rogers

Nikki Black was abandoned at birth. This is a fact she cannot and will not forget.  Every breath, every moment of Nikki’s existence as a person is tormented by the constant painful reminder of how her birth mother cruelly rejected her when she was a baby, thereby forcing on Nikki a lifetime of mental punishment.  “Fear” and hatred haunt Nikki day and night until she resolves to end this. She thinks she can end it all by going to the Hebrides and finding her mother.  It is on a lonely, barely inhabited island that Nikki’s mother, Phyllis MacLeod, resides, and it is there that Nikki plans to murder her and set herself free.  However, despite Nikki’s need for revenge, there are still secrets to be discovered, and Nikki’s love for fairy tales is about to be tested by the darkness within her own family’s history.  The solution to Nikki’s anger is not going to be an act of murder—it will be a long-lost half-brother and the reasons behind Phyllis’ escape from the past.

… What’s the truth? The truth is what people want. Liars are basically idealists, liars are saints and prophets. Jesus was a liar. …

~ excerpt from “Chapter 5: On mothers” in Island by Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers really questioned every concept of morality in Island.  Nikki is a character that fears nothing but fear itself, a young woman who constantly curses and criticizes her life as well as everything around her.  She cares for no one, especially not herself.  Nikki’s blatant use of strong profanity and her repulsion by “normal” modern society marks her out to be a psychologically complex persona, especially her criminal tendencies and her lack of a working moral compass.  Rogers further drives a reader of Nikki’s self-carved narrative by twisting commonly accepted ideas (e.g. truth) around and increasing the suspense of the murder next to the mystery of Nikki’s origins.

Good becomes evil, evil becomes good, and the ends justify the means.  This Machiavellian streak in Island is overcome by the author’s equally unusual interpretation of fairy tales and the way they are formed from thoughts and logic.  Violence and sexuality are no strangers to popular stories, and they are a massive part of Island as well, where Nikki’s obsession with murdering her own mother is matched by her ability to manipulate people without any scruples.  In fact, Nikki never once has second thoughts about doing anything, even deceiving her half-brother, Calum, into an incestuous relationship.

Calum is another part of the author’s triangle of madness, a simple-minded young man who has sudden, violent outbursts of anger. He is strange and ethereal, a reflection of Nikki’s temperament and yet her opposite.  Phyllis, their unfortunate mother, is a victim of cruel circumstances.  Her own parents were responsible for the outcome of her miserable life, and they indirectly stretched out their bloody hands toward Nikki by tainting her birth with their unjust actions.  Nikki’s feelings are not unwarranted, considering her upbringing, and her abuse toward her mother cannot be believed to be undeserved until the truth, confusing as it is, is finally revealed.

The author has concocted a reasonably intelligent mystery here, and her characters are so realistic and brooding in their emotions, especially Nikki, that they are strangely unforgettable, being simultaneously innocent and guilty per se.Rogers’ arrangement of her thoughts and her retellings of “fairy tales” makes Island darkly alluring amid the unspeakable crimes that are slowly exposed.  Island seems to draw in all the vice and misery of the world into its pages and then put it all through the disturbed meditation of one character.  Unapproachable in its themes, this truly adult novel that begins and ends on an island has the psychological churnings of an insane world.

Original review: Part 1: Jane Rogers’ ‘Island’ is darkly powerful and perceptivePart 2: Jane Rogers’ ‘Island’ is darkly powerful and perceptive, Examiner.com

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