An Island by Karen Jennings review – stranger on the shore
Longlisted for the Booker prize, Jennings’s allegory of a lighthouse keeper and an uninvited guest grapples with colonialism and the plight of refugees
Karen Jennings’s taut, tenebrous novel describes what happens when Samuel, a septuagenarian lighthouse keeper and the sole inhabitant of a small island off the coast of an unnamed African country, acquires an uninvited houseguest. The claustrophobia of its setting is compounded by its timeframe, the main action taking place over just four days, yet its themes are expansive. Here is a tragic tale that grapples with colonialism, xenophobia and political resistance, along with the plight of displaced peoples.
Over the course of two solitary decades, Samuel has coaxed sustenance from the island’s inhospitable terrain. It’s backbreaking work, and still the rampant plant he names “smotherweed” reappears daily in his vegetable patch, his favourite red hen is pecked by her coop-mates, and sections of a drystone wall – his defence against the waves – cave in.