29th January, 2020

Review: The Island Child by Molly Aitken (Canongate Books)

This is a book of the sea, of motherhood, and of identity. It's a story that will stick with you for days and it will make you think about family, traditions, and womanhood. 

The Island Child tells the story of Oona, born on the island of Inis, a place were old beliefs and superstition still reign. The men go fishing to provide for their families while the women's place is in the home. In this small community rumours spread like wildfire and people who are different quickly become outsiders. Even though Oona left the island twenty years ago, she still can't escape its pull.

Aitken's novel is written in the form of a dual narrative and we follow Oona's life both as a child on the island and as an adult who has to return. The Island Child is a book full of pain and heartbreak - it covers difficult topics such as abortion, rape, death, mental and physical abuse, and suicide. Yet, it is also a stunningly beautiful novel. I loved Aitken's voice and her way of describing landscape. I adored how she draws characters. They are all complex and deeply flawed, which makes them utterly believable. 

The story is full of little mysteries that develop perfectly due to the author's choice of narrative structure. Aitken's tale negotiates topoi such as womanhood and motherhood, and the author doesn't shy away from highlighting both the positive AND negative sides. It also explores religion and fanaticism, illuminating the harrowing effects both can have on an individual. All of this is supported by a subtle but constant underlying melancholy that creates the perfect atmosphere for this kind of story. 

Last but not least, Aitken's book raises the question whether one can really ever be completely free. Oona manages to leave the island but she has struggled with the trauma of her childhood all her life, and eventually she has to confront her own past and the history of her family. 

The Island Child is a powerful novel by an extremely promising young writer. It is raw and beautiful and heart-wrenching, all in one. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5 stars

(The Island Child will be out on 30th January!)

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