San Miguel by T.C. Boyle
American writer T.C. Boyle (World’s End, The Road to Wellville and Drop City) has chosen to set his latest novel, San Miguel, on the westernmost of California’s Channel Islands, a place surrounded by rough seas and brutal and constant northern winds.
The first part of the book takes place in 1880. Marantha, a 38-year-old mother who suffers from consumption, is brought to the island on the insistence of her forceful husband, a Civil War veteran named Will. Also in tow is their adopted daughter, Edith, and her young Irish maid, Ida. The plan is for the family to set up a small sheep farming business, yet, as time passes, the oppressive nature of the island fractures relations, threatening to tear them all apart, and dramatically transforming the young and privileged Edith
The second narrative begins in March 1930 as Elise Lester, a New York City librarian, arrives on the island with her husband in hopes of starting a new life and a family away from the ravages of The Depression. Yet they too will be caught by the island’s haunted history, and the renewed threat of war.
Boyle uses the imagery and landscape of the Channel Islands as the overwhelming catalyst in both stories, and his female characters possess an eloquent inner strength and a strong bond with nature.
San Miguel is a wonderfully moving piece of historical fiction.
Michael Awosoga-Samuel is a bookseller and music specialist at Readings Carlton.