Yeah, maybe they should have gone back to Melbourne. The warning was right there. They were told the island was like “Jurassic bloody Park.” But the kids want to see a koala. The kids are Olivia and Owen. Dad is Tom. The new wife is Heather. “The kids weren’t quite sold on her yet, but they’d get there,” thinks Tom.
The Island gets plenty scary. Like, Deliverance-level tense. (I swear on all my reviews I wrote that line before reading Adrian McKinty’s acknowledgements.) The tension ramps up out there on Dutch Island and then it ramps up some more. But, for my money, what happens off the coast of Australia is all set up by the first three chapters, before the family rides the flat-bottomed vessel out to the “decrepit wooden jetty” on the other side of the bay.
McKinty gives us three chapters to get to know the family. Characters first, action second. We get the family dynamics loud and clear, with Heather as the newest member of the foursome. It’s important to see Heather at this stage because she’s got a rugged road ahead. “She had known this was going to be a tough trip but she hadn’t realized quite how tough.” Over the course of the first five days traveling with her new family, she’s “barely had a moment to herself.” (And we haven’t even left the Airbnb on the beach.) Soon, she’ll need to channel her inner Katniss Everdeen, her inner Imperator Furiosa.
In a quick, smooth bit of exposition-via-dialogue, Heather talks via phone with her girlfriend Carolyn back in Seattle. And we learn that Heather, a massage therapist, has given up a potential career as a singer of an actress to become a “twenty-four-hour live-in nanny with benefits.” Tom is a quirky, wealthy, orthopedic surgeon. He complains to the rental agency about getting the wrong Porsche. They’re on a trip to Australia that combines a work conference and vacation. Tom decides to prioritize the kids’ interests and that leads to the decision to pay the exorbitant fee to head out to the island where, they are told, there are “animals everywhere.”
To put it mildly.
The Island is an escapist high-adrenaline romp. Escapist, yeah, but you will feel very, very trapped. Stuck. Confined. Cornered. Screwed.
Heather and Tom make one bad decision and that leads to the next decision to lie about what happened and soon they are dealing with a backwater family led by a woman, “Ma,” with her pink slippers, eye patch, and copper-colored wig. Ma is deliciously over the top. “When she reached the bottom of the stairs,” McKinty writes, “the woman wheezed heavily and then continued her progress across the living room like an old pope arriving at an inquisition.”
To “Ma,” everything is fine on the island just the way it is. “We have to go forward, Matthew,” she tells one of her sons. “Forward. Forward into the past when everything was prey.” To Ma, Heather is the monster, the mythological bunyip.
Like any family, there are cracks. A few of the offspring wouldn’t mind rebranding or opening up the island to the outside world. It’s all up to Heather to exploit those divisions, protect her new family, and figure out how the hell she’s going to survive.
Want to feel trapped? Pick up The Island. Otherwise, go back to Melbourne.
(BTW, I listened on audio and the narration by Mela Lee is terrific.)
Previously reviewed: The Chain
Previously reviewed: Rain Dogs
Previously reviewed: Fifty Grand