“Burnt Island” by Alice Thompson

“Burnt Island”
By Alice Thompson
Salt Publishing, 2013

An island as a holiday retreat, a voluntary escape, is a relatively new idea. In old days you could find yourself on a faraway island most probably after a shipwreck. If you managed to reach the land, your fight for a survival had only began. Books and movies love to fuse these ideas and, for example, in Danny Boyle’s cult movie “The Beach” a dreamy paradise soon turns into a violent hell. Long story short, an island is the perfect setting for an erotic horror story. Tempting, yet claustrophobic.

It has been a while since I had such a good laugh while reading a book. The sixth novel by British writer Alice Thompson, “Burnt Island”, kicks the literary world wittily in the balls. Struggling writer Max Long decides to write his next book with a completely different approach. He will calculate each step to create an easy-to-read bestseller. He gets a place in a writing residency and travels with a ferry to the Burnt Island, soon to discover that he will live with one of the most successful writers of his time in his beautiful mansion, overlooking the sea.

Will poor Faust, so thirsty for a breakthrough, sell his soul to Mephistopheles?

The thin line between the reality and imagination becomes even thinner. Max continues to blame his over creative mind, while the island secretly writes its own set of rules. Is it the place that creates our thoughts or is it the other way round – we see what we believe?

Alice Thompson got the idea for “Burnt Island” while being in a residency on Shetland islands. She experienced the sense of an island so strongly, that she wanted to bring it into a book.

The creeping claustrophobia, where the infinite horizon all around the island ceases to inspire and starts to suffocate, is described similar to what happens in the head of a writer, where imaginary worlds line up like beads on an infinite string. The painting on the cover of the book, “The Solitude” by Salvador Dali, is very fitting.

Sea monsters, deadly sexy sirens, the horrible sheet of paper, “white as an Ahab’s whale”; the book is full of sea references, and it is a strange pleasure to stumble upon them while walking on the slippery underwater rocks. Although the gothic story gives you shivers on a hot summer day, most of the time the satiric prose makes you laugh out loud.

Especially when Max, hiding behind the dunes, discovers that his literary agent is a blood-sucking monster.

***

Sala kā brīvdienu paradīze ir nesena vīzija. Iespēja cilvēkiem labprātīgi aizbēgt. Senāk uz salas mēdza nonākt, nogrimstot kuģim, un, izpeldot krastā, izdzīvošana tikai sākās. Grāmatas un filmas pludina to visu kopā, un, piemēram, Denija Boila kulta filmā “Pludmale” paradīze drīz pārtop par vājprāta elli. Robeža izrādās plāna. Īsāk sakot, sala ir brīnišķīga vieta erotiskam šausmu romānam. Vilinoša un klaustrofobiska.

Sen nebiju tā smējusies, lasot grāmatu. Britu rakstnieces Alises Tompsones sestais romāns “Burnt Island” asprātīgi sper literārajai pasaulei pa kājstarpi. Neveiksmīgs rakstnieks Makss savu astoto grāmatu nolemj rakstīt citādāk. Ar aukstu aprēķinu viņš radīs pavieglu bestselleru. Atsaucies rezidences sludinājumam, viņš dodas uz salu, lai atklātu, ka dzīvos pie viena no veiksmīgākajiem tālaika raksntiekiem, viņa skaistajā villā ar skatu uz jūru.

Vai pēc panākumiem izmisušais Fausts pārdos Mefistofelim dvēseli?

Jau pirmajās dienās zūd robeža starp iztēli un realitāti. Makss turpina vainot savu radošo prātu, kamēr sala arvien uzstājīgāk diktē savus noteikumus. Vai vieta nosaka to, kas notiks mūsu galvās, jeb otrādi – mēs redzam to, ko domājam? Grāmatas ideja Alisei Tompsonei radusies rezidences laikā Šetlandes salās. Viņa spēcīgi izdzīvojusi salas sajūtu un nolēmusi to pārnest grāmatā. Salas klaustrofobija, kur bezgalīgais apvārsnis gan iedvesmo, gan žņaudz, aprakstīta līdzīgi tam, kas notiek rakstnieka galvā, kur viena pēc otras rodas izdomātas pasaules. Salvadora Dalī glezna “Vientulība”, kas ir uz grāmatas vāka, ir ļoti trāpīga.

Jūras briesmoņi, nāvīgi seksīgās sirēnas, derdzīgā papīra lapa, “balta kā Ahaba valis”. Romāns ir pilns jūras zemūdnes akmeņu un atsauču, kurām ir bauda uzdurties. Kaut vietām grāmata kļūst tieši tik gotiska, lai pat karstā vasaras dienā uzmestos zosāda, satīriskās ainas tomēr liek smieties, nevis baidīties. Jo īpaši, kad Makss, aizslēpies aiz kāpas, atklāj, ka viņa literārais aģents sūc asinis.

 

Photo: Anna Iltnere, Beach Books

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