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BOOK REVIEW: The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

July 16, 2017 11:00 am

Out Now

Published by Chicken House Publishing.

Review by Annalise Murray.

Books 1

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of reading and reviewing The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. My exam-frazzled brain hadn’t the slightest recollection of why I’d wanted to read it, and all I could see was its trite blurb and slightly questionable cover.

The plotline didn’t seem especially thrilling either. The novel’s main character is a twelve-year-old Filipino girl, Amihan, who lives in a leprosy colony called Culion. Ami doesn’t have leprosy: her mother does. Everything seems remarkably idyllic, until one day a government representative turns up with plans to ship all ‘untouched’ children to the nearby island of Coron. Things go downhill from there.

Despite my apprehension, I was won over by the end of the first page.

The writing is simple and breezy; the kind of effortlessness only ever achieved by a good deal of effort, and significant talent. The imagery is vivid, full of similes and metaphors that are genuinely reminiscent of what they’re trying to portray. The language is simply beautiful, painful and poignant in the extreme.

The Island at the End of Everything has a wide-ranging set of themes which are remarkably adult for a novel aimed at pre-teens: loneliness, prejudice, forgiveness and the like. Every second line contains some sentiment about these issues that’ll knock the air clean out of you with the force of how correct it is. The characters, though, never feel like mouthpieces for the author’s ‘clever’ sentiments. Authenticity runs deeply throughout the novel.

My initial perceptions weren’t entirely incorrect: the butterfly motif is still a bit hackneyed, the plotline probably slightly predictable, the early Twentieth Century setting still a slog, but all of that fades into absolute unimportance because you feel it.

It helps that the plot isn’t far-fetched in the least. The idea of separating children from their parents in the way Ami is from her mother seems so impossible, such an idea of far-away and long-ago, except when it doesn’t. It’s semi-true, for a start, and I can think of examples far more recent than 1906 which must have looked like good ideas when they were written on white papers and clutched in the hands of men who didn’t really understand. The Island at the End of Everything isn’t really just about leprosy. It’s not subtle in its analogy with current and historic events; it doesn’t try to be.

They inclusion of Filipino words were infrequent but necessary, contributing to the sense of place in a big way, and they’re always introduced in context and don’t require lots of flipping to the front of the book for the translation.

Potential adult readers needn’t feel dubious about the child narrator, either. Ami provides a refreshing and sweetly innocent perspective on adult issues. Also, as in a lot of writing for children, there’s quite a shade of subtext to the novel; things that are clearly intended to have bypassed the narrator, but not to bypass the reader. I appreciate any kind of playing with narration, and this is no exception.

It’s difficult to think of a witty closing line, when it really is as simple as this: The Island at the End of Everything is an absolute masterpiece. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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