The Colony: Audrey Magee

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The Colony: Audrey Magee

The Colony: Audrey Magee

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The Colony accumulates realistic scenes of domestic life-- simple meals, cliffside walks, teatime conversations-- over the course of a summer. As it happens, the conflict between the two will affect more the family who hosts them than the visitors. This is a slow burning drama that builds to say something much bigger about notions of national purity and colonialism. A really fascinating and distinctive fictional examination of the effects of colonization – ranging from artistic appropriation, through language (cleverly both external dialogue and internal monologue) to the legacy of violence. The Frenchman is equally disgruntled to discover an Englishman on “his” island, corrupting the purity of his experiment by dragging the increasingly bilingual islanders further towards the colonisers’ language.

Mairéad’s is still haunted by the loss of her husband and her desire to make her own life choices within the duties and responsibilities placed on her by others, not least the Francis. Magee has conveyed the relationship vividly within a tiny cast seemingly marooned from the unfolding Troubles and yet as affected by it as its victims and perpetrators. I listened to the audiobook masterfully narrated by Stephen Hogan and I did not encounters the punctuation and paragraphing issues some others discussed.That sentence took me back to the first time I smelled linseed oil and oil paints myself—and also to a Cézanne painting, one of the ones where the artist destabilizes the viewer by merging two perspectives, two points of view, so that we are simultaneously looking down on a bowl of fruit and looking up at an isolated fruit beside the bowl. The novel moves smoothly from one point of view to the next, we see what the visitors and the islanders think, how their ideas and hopes contrast with the other. He is one of the island’s few remaining teenagers and is determined not to succumb to a life as a fisherman (barely surprising as both his father and grandfather drowned). Had to mull my rating and what I felt about this book overnight - it IS thought-provoking and very well written - and yet I wasn't ENTIRELY satisfied; although of the six 2022 Booker nominees I have read thus far, it is clearly the standout (which actually says more about the dearth of anything amazing in this year's list, rather than the virtues of this entry). His fellow visitor also carries colonial baggage: he is Jean-Pierre Masson, a Frenchman of Algerian descent.

Another example of such a switch in point of view mid-sentence is this line about the smell of linseed oil: James inhaled deeply, soaking his lungs in this otherness that I could breathe all day, never come out.

There's also Frenchman Jean-Pierre, a linguist who has been making excursions to the island for many years to record how the “purity” of this spoken language is slowly changing with the increasing influence of English. Thanks so much, Sue, for linking to my post, and I’m really glad to see just how much you got out of reading this novel with your book group. The writing is expressive, with various motifs running through it – like rabbits, apples, smells – and refrains, like “young widow island woman”. Soft summer days pass, and the islanders are forced to question what they value and what they desire.

Financial Times'A vivid and memorable book about art, land and language, love and sex, youth and age. Her follow-up, The Colony, set in Magee’s native Ireland, applies much the same technique but now the distancing seems much more at home. After a lurching, punishing crossing from the mainland in a currach (he finds the motorboat inauthentic), Lloyd is dismayed to discover that he is not the only visitor with designs on the island. It intertwines many different themes, usually (but not always) seamlessly: the conflict (real and metaphorical) between the English and French and their former colonists (Irish and Algerian); the selfishness and self-importance of artists and academics; the rugged way of life on small islands; the senseless atrocity of violence during The Troubles; the processes involved in creating drawings and paintings; power (of the incomers) and exploitation (of the islanders). I'd be extremely surprised if this didn't make the 2022 Booker longlist, and maybe even the shortlist.The Colony tries to shake up its material through structural and linguistic devices: interwoven 1st and 3rd person narratives (courtesy of James Joyce? The novel is set over the summer of 1979, easily dated for readers by reporting of the assassination of Louis Mountbatten in August 1979. The Colony is a brilliant and thoughtfully calibrated commentary about the nature and balance of power. Tit-for-tat assassinations become the background mood music, with the sickening crescendo arriving at the end of August, when Lord Mountbatten, the queen’s cousin and a war hero, is blown up with his family while on holiday in County Sligo.

With dwindling numbers, those remaining need to do what they can to survive, but the odds are stacked against them. Mairéad reminded me of the grieving woman in J M Synge's drama, Riders to the Sea, and her very memorable cry when handed a scrap of clothing that is all that remains of her last son, drowned in a fishing tragedy: There's nothing more the sea can do to me.Violence is a constant presence in the book, from the relentless news reports to young James’ brutal killing of rabbits for food. For one thing, he speaks Irish, being a linguist who specialises in “languages threatened with extinction”. One of the remaining youngest island residents is James who prefers to speak English and be addressed by his English name rather than his Irish name Seamus.

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