Monday 4 May 2020

"Hope Island" by Tim Major

Hope Island

by Tim Major

A review

Nina Scaife and her fourteen-year old daughter Laurie have just arrived on the eponymous Hope Island, off the coast of Maine, the childhood home of Nina’s long-time partner (and Laurie’s father) Rob.  Nina, a British TV news producer, is a workaholic, and this is the first time that she has made time to accompany her daughter on a visit to Rob’s elderly parents in America.  How ironic then that during this stay she will have to break the news that Rob is not really “away on a holiday” or on a work trip and that the reason for his absence is that he has recently abandoned an already frayed relationship.   

The novel opens with a literal jolt – Nina, just after her arrival in Hope Island, is driving towards her in-laws’ house when she slams on the brakes to avoid running over a mysterious girl ominously standing in the middle of the road.  Laurie, Grandpa Abram and Grandma Tammie are in the car but do not notice the girl.   Is Nina’s mind playing tricks?  Soon, Nina discovers that all the children on the island seem to be acting strangely and starts fearing that Laurie will be the next to be infected with the strange malaise which seems to hold them in thrall.   The “Siblings”, a sort of quasi-mystical commune who have settled on the island, and to whom Tammie and Abram belong, seem to have something to do with the creepy goings-on.    

Tim Major is a writer of speculative fiction who cites John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells amongst his influences.   Indeed, Hope Island is based a Wyndhamesque premise combining elements of sci-fi and supernatural fiction.   The novel also has a strong folk-horror vibe to it.  The contrast between Nina – the sceptical journalist and outsider – and the islanders is a typical trope of that genre, as are the frenzied rituals featured in some of the book’s chapters.

What is more surprising is how much of the novel does not deal with the uncanny at all, but is actually a psychological study of a woman – Nina – who is questioning her life choices after the traumatic event of the breakdown of her relationship.  Indeed, as Nina’s sanity becomes increasingly fragile, one starts to suspect that at least some of the supernatural events in the novel might be the creations of her feverish mind.  

Perhaps because of this conceptual approach, lovers of page-turning, action-packed horror novels might be disappointed.  Hope Island requires some patience – it’s a slow-burning read with includes symbolic dreamlike sequences which are not always easy to follow.   However, you should definitely check out this novel if your idea of horror is the psychological type, where the eeriness creeps upon you slowly but surely.

Interestingly, this is the second novel I’ve read in a matter of weeks (the other one being Andrés Barba’s A Luminous Republic) featuring children acting strangely.  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, or perhaps this theme (which is by no means new) will become a sub-genre, just as the “missing person” trope seems to have recently become ubiquitous.  I must say that the two novels are very different, but I have enjoyed both – I love the serendipity when two books read in close succession act as a counterpoint to each other.

Paperback400 pages
Expected publication: June 8th 2020 by Titan Books

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