The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle
Somewhere in the latter part of the 21st century, the planet has reached breaking point, the world watching grimly on as Pitcairn Island gradually, inexorably sinks into the Pacific. It’s a kind of doomsday clock for humanity’s hopes of averting catastrophe – and filmmaker Max Galleon sees the potential for the ultimate immersive disaster film. Max outsources his life completely to technology, archiving and replaying every conceivable piece of data to the point where he can no longer retain memories. His family are crippled by the anxieties of their time – his wife distant, his daughter obsessed with eco-efficiency, his son with survivalism. Meanwhile, an enigmatic doctor suggests a new technique to allow Max to mentally connect with his comatose brother.
Readers of The Lifted Brow will be familiar with the type of writing the literary magazine specialises in – provocative, challenging and experimental. The Island Will Sink, the Brow’s first foray into full-length book publishing, is thus a natural fit. The world of Doyle’s novel, while practically unrecognisable from our own, is meticulously and cleverly realised, from housing, transport and the sad irony of ubiquitous sustainability propaganda, to the convergence of technology and the self.
The Island Will Sink is a satire, but an incredibly dark one. Like Don DeLillo’s White Noise for the climate-change generation, the novel is imbued with a deep nihilism – and it’s easy to transfer this sense of hopelessness to our world too. There are characters who are inscrutable, or obtuse, or speak only in ideology – Max’s memory loss adds to this alienating effect, and the reader has to do some extra work to counter Max’s disconnectedness from himself and the world. But there are moments of hope, too, small and precious as they are – and by the end of the book, a sense that uncertainty may be as much a blessing as a curse.
Alan Vaarwerk is the editorial assistant for Readings Monthly.